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Current Understanding of Physicochemical Mechanisms for Cell Membrane Penetration of Arginine-rich Cell Penetrating Peptides: Role of Glycosaminoglycan Interactions

[ Vol. 19 , Issue. 6 ]


Yuki Takechi-Haraya* and Hiroyuki Saito*   Pages 623 - 630 ( 8 )


Arginine-rich cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) are very promising drug carriers to deliver membrane-impermeable pharmaceuticals, such as siRNA, bioactive peptides and proteins. CPPs directly penetrate into cells across cell membranes via a spontaneous energy-independent process, in which CPPs appear to interact with acidic lipids in the outer leaflet of the cell membrane. However, acidic lipids represent only 10 to 20% of the total membrane lipid content and in mammalian cell membranes they are predominantly located in the inner leaflet. Alternatively, CPPs favorably bind in a charge density- dependent manner to negatively charged, sulfated glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), such as heparan sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, which are abundant on the cell surface and are involved in many biological functions. We have recently demonstrated that the interaction of CPPs with sulfated GAGs plays a critical role in their direct cell membrane penetration: the favorable enthalpy contribution drives the high-affinity binding of arginine-rich CPPs to sulfated GAGs, initiating an efficient cell membrane penetration. The favorable enthalpy gain is presumably mainly derived from a unique property of the guanidino group of arginine residues forming multidentate hydrogen bonding with sulfate and carboxylate groups in GAGs. Such interactions can be accompanied with charge neutralization of arginine-rich CPPs, promoting their partition into cell membranes. This review summarizes the current understanding of the physicochemical mechanism for lipid membrane penetration of CPPs, and discusses the role of the GAG interactions on the cell membrane penetration of CPPs.


Cell penetrating peptide, cell membrane penetration, arginine, glycosaminoglycan, drug carriers, siRNA.


Division of Drugs, National Institute of Health Sciences, 1-18-1 Kamiyoga, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 158-8501, Department of Biophysical Chemistry, Kyoto Pharmaceutical University, 5 Nakauchi-cho, Misasagi, Yamashina-ku, Kyoto 607-8414

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