Intracellular delivery of biomolecules using non-viral vectors critically depends on the vectors' ability to allow the escape and release of the contents from the endosomes. Prior findings demonstrated that aromatic/hydrophobic group-containing amino acids such as phenylalanine (F) and tryptophan (W) destabilize cellular membranes by forming pores in the lipid bilayer. Taking cues from these findings, we have developed four α-tocopherol-based cationic amphiphiles by varying the aromatic/hydrophobic amino acids such as glycine (G), proline (P), phenylalanine (F), and tryptophan (W) as head groups and triazole in the linker region to study their impact on endosomal escape for the enhanced transfection efficacy. The lipids tocopherol-triazole-phenylalanine (TTF) and tocopherol-triazole-tryptophan (TTW) exhibited similar potential to commercial transfecting reagents, Lipofectamine (LF) 3000 and Lipofectamine Messenger Max (LFMM), respectively, in transfecting plasmid DNA and messenger RNA in multiple cultured cell lines. The TTW liposome was also found to be effective in delivering Cas9 mRNA and demonstrated equal efficiency of gene editing AAVS1 locus compared to LFMM in CHO, Neuro-2a, and EA.HY926 cell lines. In this current investigation, it is shown that the synthesized cationic lipids with aromatic hydrophobic R group-containing amino acids are safe, economic, and actually more efficient in nucleic acid delivery and genome-editing applications. These findings can be further explored in the genome-editing approach for treating genetic disorders.
Keywords: cationic lipids; endosomal escape; gene editing; non-viral nucleic acid delivery; α-tocopherol.