Phospholipid-mimicking cell-penetrating polymers: principles and applications

J Mater Chem B. 2020 Sep 14;8(34):7633-7641. doi: 10.1039/d0tb01520b. Epub 2020 Jul 28.


Understanding the interactions of eukaryotic cellular membranes with nanomaterials is required to construct efficient and safe nanomedicines and molecular bioengineering. Intracellular uptake of nanocarriers by active endocytosis limits the intracellular distribution to the endosomal compartment, impairing the intended biological actions of the cargo molecules. Nonendocytic intracellular migration is another route for nanomaterials with cationic or amphiphilic properties to evade the barrier function of the lipid bilayer plasma membranes. Direct transport of nanomaterials into cells is efficient, but this may cause cytotoxic or biocidal effects by temporarily disrupting the biological membrane barrier. We have recently discovered that nonendocytic internalization of synthetic amphipathic polymer-based nanoaggregates that mimic the structure of natural phospholipids can occur without inducing cytotoxicity. Analysis using a proton leakage assay indicated that the polymer enters cells by amphiphilicity-induced membrane fusion rather than by transmembrane pore formation. These noncytotoxic cell-penetrating polymers may find applications in drug delivery systems, gene transfection, cell therapies, and biomolecular engineering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry*
  • Biomimetic Materials / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Phospholipids / metabolism*
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Polymers / metabolism


  • Phospholipids
  • Polymers