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Vectors based on the formation of a soluble DNA-polycation complex are being developed for the treatment of human diseases. These complexes are rapidly taken up by receptor-mediated endocytosis, but are inefficiently delivered to the nucleus owing to entrapment in membrane-bound vesicles. In this study we introduced the transmembrane domain of diphtheria toxin into a DNA-polycation conjugate complex in an effort to increase gene transfer by membrane perturbation. The transmembrane domain of diphtheria toxin was expressed in Escherichia coli as a maltose-binding protein fusion and chemically coupled to high-molecular-mass poly-L-lysine. Incorporation of this conjugate into a traditional complex formed with a luciferase-containing plasmid with an asialo-orosomucoid-polycation conjugate significantly increased transfection efficiency in vitro in a manner proportional to the amount of diphtheria toxin incorporated. The delivery of luciferase RNA transcript was similarly increased when complexed with similar polycation conjugates. This study uses the structural biology of a bacterial protein to improve polycation-based gene delivery.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochemical Journal

Publication Date





49 - 58