Non-viral gene delivery is currently a hot subject for its relative safety and simplicity of use; however, it is still far from being ideal enough to be clinically used for its comparatively lower efficiency than viral gene delivery. To improve the efficiency of non-viral gene delivery needs a comprehensive understanding of the uptake mechanisms. Macromolecules are internalized into cells by a variety of mechanisms, and their intracellular fates are usually relevant with the uptake pathways. The uptake pathways of non-viral gene complexes are usually determined by not only the gene/carrier interaction but also by the interaction between complexes and target cells. The best-characterized uptake pathway is the so-called clathrin-mediated endocytic pathway. However, there are numerous updates of knowledge about endocytic pathways and even non-endocytic pathways in recent years with the development of novel technologies for tracking and inhibiting. In this review, we will try to sort out our current understanding of the uptake mechanisms of non-viral gene delivery. In addition, factors for pathway selection are summarized in the third section. Finally, the useful inhibitors or tools for the study of these pathways will also be concluded in the last section.
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