Molecular weight and architectural dependence of well-defined star-shaped poly(lysine) as a gene delivery vector†
A series of well-defined star-shaped polypeptides were successfully synthesised by the ring opening polymerisation (ROP) of the N-carboxyanhydride (NCA) of ε-carbobenzyloxy-L-lysine (ZLL) using a range of generations of polypropylene imine (PPI) dendrimers as multifunctional initiators. The monomer feed ratio and dendrimer generation were varied to afford a series of polypeptide dendrimer hybrids with superior structural versatility and functionality. Subsequent protecting group removal yielded star-shaped poly(lysine) of controlled variation in polypeptide chain length and arm multiplicity. Star-shaped PLL polymers were used to prepare pDNA and siRNA to form “polyplexes” to determine their ability to complex different nucleic acid cargoes and were compared with linear PLL polyplex controls. Significant differences in size and surface charge were seen between star-shaped PLL polyplexes and linear PLL polyplexes for both cargoes. The star-shaped polypeptides were capable of more effective complexation of both nucleic acids at low N/P ratios compared to linear PLL as evidenced by zeta potential and electrophoretic data. This was particularly evident in siRNA polyplexes as linear PLL failed to completely complex siRNA into nanocomplexes of appropriate size for cell transfection i.e. <200 nm in size, while star poly(lysine) formed siRNA polyplexes <100 nm at certain N/P ratios, albeit strongly dependent on the particular molecular weight and architecture, as analysed by dynamic light scattering (DLS). Atomic force microscopy (AFM) identified discrete spherically shaped polyplexes for all star-shaped polypeptide-based polyplexes while linear PLL formed elongated irregular shaped complexes. This difference in morphology may go some way towards explaining the 300-fold increase in luciferase expression seen for star-shaped PLL polyplexes G5(64)-PLL40 compared to linear PLL pGLuc polyplexes in epithelial cells. Each of the PPI-PLL polymers appeared to be capable of protecting the nucleic acid cargoes from degradation by the relevant nuclease enzyme as effectively as the positive control polyethyleneimine (PEI) polyplexes. Overall the promising nucleic acid complexation, sizing, morphology and protection capacity of two different genetic “cargoes” highlight the potential of polypeptide dendrimer hybrids as gene delivery vectors.