Rational Design Principles of Attenuated Cationic Lytic Peptides for Intracellular Delivery of Biomacromolecules

Mol Pharm. 2020 Jun 1;17(6):2175-2185. doi: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.0c00312. Epub 2020 May 12.


Intracellular delivery of bioactive macromolecules via endocytic pathways has utility in biotechnological and medicinal applications. Various endosomolytic peptides bearing glutamic acid (Glu) residues have been developed with the aim to achieve selective lysis of endosomal membranes without damaging cell membranes (plasma membranes) to release endosome-entrapped macromolecules and obtain their bioactivity. Glu residues on peptides are negatively charged in the extracellular medium, and substitution of this residue onto membrane-lytic peptides prevents its peptide-membrane interaction and its lytic activity. On the other hand, within endosomes, which have a reduced pH of ∼5, Glu is protonated, resulting in the reduction of the hydrophilicity of the peptide, unmasking its lytic activity. Despite this, a limited number of studies have elucidated the optimum positions for Glu substitution. This report investigated the positioning of Glu and the endosomolytic activities of cationic lytic peptides, ponericin-W3, and melittin. By cell-based assays, biophysical analyses, and molecular dynamics simulations, we found that analogues with Glu positioned on the borders between the hydrophobic and hydrophilic faces of the helical structures showed better performance than placing Glu within said faces.

Keywords: attenuated cationic lytic peptide; endosome-destabilizing peptide; intracellular delivery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cations / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / chemistry
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Peptides / chemistry*


  • Cations
  • Peptides
  • Glutamic Acid