Uptake and intracellular fate of polyethylenimine in vivo

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Branched polyamines are extensively used as nonviral vectors for plasmid DNA in transfection experiments. Moreover, recently it has been shown that these compounds are able to eliminate prions from infected cells in cultures. It has been proposed that in both cases endosomes or lysosomes are the site of action. This raises the question of how these molecules are taken up by the cells and what is their intracellular fate. In the work presented here, the question has been addressed by investigating the uptake and the intracellular distribution of branched polyethyleneimine (25 kD) by centrifugation methods. The polyamine was labelled with 125I-tyramine cellobiose and injected to the rat. The radioactive polymer is taken up after injection into the liver, kidney, spleen, and lungs and remains in these organs for many days. In the liver, it is found mainly in the hepatocytes. Intracellular distribution of radioactivity present in that organ was investigated by differential and isopycnic centrifugations. Early after injection, radioactivity exhibits a distribution pattern similar to that of alkaline phosphodiesterase, a plasma membrane marker. Later, the distribution pattern becomes similar to that of cathepsin C, a lysosomal enzyme. Radioactivity and hydrolase distributions in a sucrose gradient are similarly modified by a pretreatment of the rat with Triton-WR1339, a specific density perturbant of lysosomes. These results indicate that polyethyleneimine is endocytosed and reaches lysosomes. For many days it persists in these organelles probably due to its resistance to lysosomal hydrolases. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-418
Number of pages5
JournalBiochemical and Biophysical Research Communications
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2000


  • Lysosomes
  • Nonviral vector
  • Polyethyleneimine
  • Prion


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