The intracellular pharmacokinetics of terminally capped peptides

Mol Pharm. 2012 May 7;9(5):1077-86. doi: 10.1021/mp200331g. Epub 2012 Apr 24.


With significant progress in delivery technologies, peptides and peptidomimetics are receiving increasing attention as potential therapeutics also for intracellular applications. However, analyses of the intracellular behavior of peptides are a challenge; therefore, knowledge on the intracellular pharmacokinetics of peptides is limited. So far, most research has focused on peptide degradation in the context of antigen processing, rather than on peptide stability. Here, we studied the structure-activity relationship of peptides with respect to intracellular residence time and proteolytic breakdown. The peptides comprised a collection of interaction motifs of SH2 and SH3 domains with different charge but that were of similar size and carried an N-terminal fluorescein moiety. First, we show that electroporation is a highly powerful technique to introduce peptides with different charge and hydrophobicity in uniform yields. Remarkably, the peptides differed strongly in retention of intracellular fluorescence with half-lives ranging from only 1 to more than 10 h. Residence times were greatly increased for retro-inverso peptides, demonstrating that rapid loss of fluorescence is a function of peptide degradation rather than the physicochemical characteristics of the peptide. Differences in proteolytic sensitivity were further confirmed using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy as a separation-free analytical technique to follow degradation in crude cell lysates and also in intact cells. The results provide a straightforward analytical access to a better understanding of the principles of peptide stability inside cells and will therefore greatly assist the development of bioactive peptides.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • Electroporation
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / pharmacokinetics*
  • Peptidomimetics
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Peptides
  • Peptidomimetics