A Quantitative Comparison of Cytosolic Delivery via Different Protein Uptake Systems

Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 16;7(1):13194. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-13469-y.


Over many years, a variety of delivery systems have been investigated that have the capacity to shuttle macromolecular cargoes, especially proteins, into the cytosol. Due to the lack of an objective way to quantify cytosolic delivery, relative delivery efficiencies of the various transport systems have remained unclear. Here, we demonstrate the use of the biotin ligase assay for a quantitative comparison of protein transport to the cytosol via cell-penetrating peptides, supercharged proteins and bacterial toxins in four different cell lines. The data illustrate large differences in both the total cellular internalization, which denotes any intracellular location including endosomes, and in the cytosolic uptake of the transport systems, with little correlation between the two. Also, we found significant differences between the cell lines. In general, protein transport systems based on cell-penetrating peptides show a modest total uptake, and mostly do not deliver cargo to the cytosol. Systems based on bacterial toxins show a modest receptor-mediated internalization but an efficient delivery to the cytosol. Supercharged proteins, on the contrary, are not receptor-specific and lead to massive total internalization into endosomes, but only low amounts end up in the cytosol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Carbon-Nitrogen Ligases / metabolism
  • Cell-Penetrating Peptides / metabolism
  • Cytosol / metabolism*
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Protein Transport / physiology


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Cell-Penetrating Peptides
  • Carbon-Nitrogen Ligases