Improved assays for determining the cytosolic access of peptides, proteins, and their mimetics

Biochemistry. 2013 Dec 17;52(50):9036-46. doi: 10.1021/bi401069g. Epub 2013 Nov 20.


Proteins and other macromolecules that cross biological membranes have great potential as tools for research and next-generation therapeutics. Here, we describe two assays that effectively quantify the cytosolic localization of a number of previously reported peptides and protein domains. One assay, which we call GIGI (glucocorticoid-induced eGFP induction), is an amplified assay that informs on relative cytosolic access without the need for sophisticated imaging equipment or adherent cells. The second, GIGT (glucocorticoid-induced eGFP translocation), is a nonamplified assay that informs on relative cytosolic access and exploits sophisticated imaging equipment to facilitate high-content screens in live cells. Each assay was employed to quantify the cytosolic delivery of several canonical "cell permeable peptides," as well as more recently reported minimally cationic miniature proteins and zinc finger nuclease domains. Our results show definitively that both overall charge as well as charge distribution influence cytosolic access and that small protein domains containing a discrete, helical, penta-Arg motif can dramatically improve the cytosolic delivery of small folded proteins such as zinc finger domains. We anticipate that the assays described herein will prove useful to explore and discover the fundamental physicochemical and genetic properties that influence both the uptake and endosomal release of peptidic molecules and their mimetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry
  • Biomimetic Materials / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytosol / chemistry
  • Cytosol / metabolism*
  • Glucocorticoids / chemistry
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / metabolism*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Peptides
  • enhanced green fluorescent protein
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins