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ACS Cent Sci. 2018 Oct 24;4(10):1379-1393. doi: 10.1021/acscentsci.8b00446. Epub 2018 Sep 27.

Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy Reveals Efficient Cytosolic Delivery of Protein Cargo by Cell-Permeant Miniature Proteins.

Author information

Department of Chemistry, and Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8107, United States.


New methods for delivering proteins into the cytosol of mammalian cells are being reported at a rapid pace. Differentiating between these methods in a quantitative manner is difficult, however, as most assays for evaluating cytosolic protein delivery are qualitative and indirect and thus often misleading. Here we make use of fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) to determine with precision and accuracy the relative efficiencies with which seven different previously reported "cell-penetrating peptides" (CPPs) transport a model protein cargo-the self-labeling enzyme SNAP-tag-beyond endosomal membranes and into the cytosol. Using FCS, we discovered that the miniature protein ZF5.3 is an exceptional vehicle for delivering SNAP-tag to the cytosol. When delivered by ZF5.3, SNAP-tag can achieve a cytosolic concentration as high as 250 nM, generally at least 2-fold and as much as 6-fold higher than any other CPP evaluated. Additionally, we show that ZF5.3 can be fused to a second enzyme cargo-the engineered peroxidase APEX2-and reliably delivers the active enzyme to the cell interior. As FCS allows one to realistically assess the relative merits of protein transduction domains, we anticipate that it will greatly accelerate the identification, evaluation, and optimization of strategies to deliver large, intact proteins to intracellular locales.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare the following competing financial interest(s): The authors declare that A.S. and R.F.W. are named inventors of a pending patent application related to the work described.

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