pH-sensitive polymer micelles provide selective and potentiated lytic capacity to venom peptides for effective intracellular delivery

David J. Peeler, Salina N. Thai, Yilong Cheng, Philip J. Horner, Drew L. Sellers, Suzie H. Pun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Endocytosed biomacromolecule delivery systems must escape the endosomal trafficking pathway in order for their cargo to exert effects in other cellular compartments. Although endosomal release is well-recognized as one of the greatest barriers to efficacy of biologic drugs with intracellular targets, most drug carriers have relied on cationic materials that passively induce endosomal swelling and membrane rupture with low efficiency. To address the endosome release challenge, our lab has developed a diblock copolymer system for nucleic acid delivery that selectively displays a potent membrane-lytic peptide (melittin) in response to the pH drop during the endosomal maturation. To further optimize this system, we evaluated a panel of peptides with reported lytic activity in comparison to melittin. Nineteen different lytic peptides were synthesized and their membrane-lytic properties at both neutral and acidic pH characterized using a red blood cell hemolysis assay. The top five performing peptides were then conjugated to our pH-sensitive diblock copolymer via disulfide linkers and used to deliver a variety of nucleic acids to cultured mammalian cells as well as in vivo to the mouse brain. We demonstrate that the sharp pH-transition of VIPER compensates for potential advantages from pH-sensitive peptides, such that polymer-peptide conjugates with poorly selective but highly lytic peptides achieve safe and effective transfection both in vitro and in vivo. In addition, peptides that require release from polymer backbones for lysis were less effective in the VIPER system, likely due to limited endosomal reducing power of target cells. Finally, we show that certain peptides are potentiated in lytic ability by polymer conjugation and that these peptide-polymer constructs are most effective in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-244
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • Central nervous system transfection
  • Endosomal escape
  • Lytic peptide
  • Nucleic acid delivery
  • pH-sensitive
  • Polymer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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