A model for non-viral gene delivery: through syndecan adhesion molecules and powered by actin

J Gene Med. 2004 Jul;6(7):769-76. doi: 10.1002/jgm.558.


Background: Cell transfection requires cationic DNA complexes and heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) at the cell surface. Syndecans are transmembrane HSPGs that are ubiquitously expressed on adherent cells. Their polyanionic heparan sulfate moieties are bound at the distal end of their ectodomain, thus facilitating interaction with large cationic particles.

Methods: We propose a model for cell entry involving syndecans as receptors for the DNA complexes by comparing transfection with bacteria uptake and using drug inhibition experiments along with confocal microscopy.

Results: When combined with results from the literature, our data suggest the following sequence of events: after initial particle binding, gradual electrostatic zippering of the plasma membrane onto the particle is sustained by lateral diffusion of syndecan molecules that cluster into cholesterol-rich rafts. Clustering in turn triggers PKC activity and linker protein-mediated actin binding to the cytoplasmic tail of the syndecans. Resulting tension fibers and a growing network of cortical actin may then pull the particle into the cell.

Conclusions: Diversion of integrin- and syndecan-mediated cell adhesion processes for particle engulfment appears to be widely exploited by animals (chylomicrons), by pathogens (bacteria, viruses) and, as suggested here, by non-viral vectors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / genetics*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Proteoglycans / genetics*
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Proteoglycans / physiology
  • Static Electricity
  • Syndecans


  • Actins
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Proteoglycans
  • Syndecans
  • Cholesterol