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Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) enhance the cellular uptake of membrane-impermeable molecules. Most CPPs are highly cationic, potentially increasing the risk of toxic side effects and leading to accumulation in organs such as the liver. As a consequence, there is an unmet need for less cationic CPPs. However, design principles for effective CPPs are still missing. Here, we demonstrate a design principle based on a classification of peptides according to accumulated side-chain polarity and hydrophobicity. We show that in comparison to randomly selected peptides, CPPs cover a distinct parameter space. We designed peptides of only six to nine amino acids with a maximum of three positive charges covering this property space. All peptides were tested for cellular uptake and subcellular distribution. Following an initial round of screening we enriched the collection with short and hydrophobic peptides and introduced d-amino acid substitutions and lactam bridges which increased cell uptake, in particular for long-term incubation. Using a GFP complementation assay, for the most active peptides we demonstrate cytosolic delivery of a biologically active cargo peptide.


Samuel Schmidt, Merel J W Adjobo-Hermans, Robin Kohze, Thilo Enderle, Roland Brock, Francesca Milletti. Identification of Short Hydrophobic Cell-Penetrating Peptides for Cytosolic Peptide Delivery by Rational Design. Bioconjugate chemistry. 2017 Feb 15;28(2):382-389

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PMID: 27966361

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