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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Jan 8;116(2):512-521. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1812044116.

HOPS-dependent endosomal fusion required for efficient cytosolic delivery of therapeutic peptides and small proteins.

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Department of Chemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8107.
Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8103.
Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8114.
Department of Chemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8107;


Protein therapeutics represent a significant and growing component of the modern pharmacopeia, but their potential to treat human disease is limited because most proteins fail to traffic across biological membranes. Recently, we discovered a class of cell-permeant miniature proteins (CPMPs) containing a precisely defined, penta-arginine (penta-Arg) motif that traffics readily to the cytosol and nucleus of mammalian cells with efficiencies that rival those of hydrocarbon-stapled peptides active in animals and man. Like many cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs), CPMPs enter the endocytic pathway; the difference is that CPMPs containing a penta-Arg motif are released efficiently from endosomes, while other CPPs are not. Here, we seek to understand how CPMPs traffic from endosomes into the cytosol and what factors contribute to the efficiency of endosomal release. First, using two complementary cell-based assays, we exclude endosomal rupture as the primary means of endosomal escape. Next, using an RNA interference screen, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, and confocal imaging, we identify VPS39-a gene encoding a subunit of the homotypic fusion and protein-sorting (HOPS) complex-as a critical determinant in the trafficking of CPMPs and hydrocarbon-stapled peptides to the cytosol. Although CPMPs neither inhibit nor activate HOPS function, HOPS activity is essential to efficiently deliver CPMPs to the cytosol. CPMPs localize within the lumen of Rab7+ and Lamp1+ endosomes and their transport requires HOPS activity. Overall, our results identify Lamp1+ late endosomes and lysosomes as portals for passing proteins into the cytosol and suggest that this environment is prerequisite for endosomal escape.


cell-penetrating peptides; endocytosis; enzyme replacement therapy; peptidomimetics; protein therapeutics

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest statement: A. Schepartz. and R.F.W. are named inventors of pending patent applications related to the work described.

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