Rab11 and Lysotracker Markers Reveal Correlation between Endosomal Pathways and Transfection Efficiency of Surface-Functionalized Cationic Liposome-DNA Nanoparticles

J Phys Chem B. 2016 Jul 7;120(26):6439-53. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.6b04441. Epub 2016 Jun 3.


Cationic liposomes (CLs) are widely studied as carriers of DNA and short-interfering RNA for gene delivery and silencing, and related clinical trials are ongoing. Optimization of transfection efficiency (TE) requires understanding of CL-nucleic acid nanoparticle (NP) interactions with cells, NP endosomal pathways, endosomal escape, and events leading to release of active nucleic acid from the lipid carrier. Here, we studied endosomal pathways and TE of surface-functionalized CL-DNA NPs in PC-3 prostate cancer cells displaying overexpressed integrin and neuropilin-1 receptors. The NPs contained RGD-PEG-lipid or RPARPAR-PEG-lipid, targeting integrin, and neuropilin-1 receptors, respectively, or control PEG-lipid. Fluorescence colocalization using Rab11-GFP and Lysotracker enabled simultaneous colocalization of NPs with recycling endosome (Rab11) and late endosome/lysosome (Rab7/Lysotracker) pathways at increasing mole fractions of pentavalent MVL5 (+5 e) at low (10 mol %), high (50 mol %), and very high (70 mol %) membrane charge density (σM). For these cationic NPs (lipid/DNA molar charge ratio, ρchg = 5), the influence of membrane charge density on pathway selection and transfection efficiency is similar for both peptide-PEG NPs, although, quantitatively, the effect is larger for RGD-PEG compared to RPARPAR-PEG NPs. At low σM, peptide-PEG NPs show preference for the recycling endosome over the late endosome/lysosome pathway. Increases in σM, from low to high, lead to decreases in colocalization with recycling endosomes and simultaneous increases in colocalization with the late endosome/lysosome pathway. Combining colocalization and functional TE data at low and high σM shows that higher TE correlates with a larger fraction of NPs colocalized with the late endosome/lysosome pathway while lower TE correlates with a larger fraction of NPs colocalized with the Rab11 recycling pathway. The findings lead to a hypothesis that increases in σM, leading to enhanced late endosome/lysosome pathway selection and higher TE, result from increased nonspecific electrostatic attractions between NPs and endosome luminal membranes, and conversely, enhanced recycling pathway for NPs and lower TE are due to weaker attractions. Surprisingly, at very high σM, the inverse relation between the two pathways observed at low and high σM breaks down, pointing to a more complex NP pathway behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amines
  • Cations / chemistry
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA / administration & dosage*
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Endosomes / metabolism*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Genetic Therapy / methods
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Integrins / metabolism
  • Liposomes / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Nanoparticles / administration & dosage*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / metabolism
  • Neuropilin-1 / metabolism
  • Transfection* / methods
  • rab GTP-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • rab GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism


  • Amines
  • Cations
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Integrins
  • Liposomes
  • Red DND-99
  • Neuropilin-1
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • DNA
  • rab11 protein
  • rab GTP-Binding Proteins