Understanding the pathways for nuclear entry could see vast improvements in polymer design for the delivery of genetic materials to cells. Here, we use a novel diblock copolymer complexed with plasmid DNA (pDNA) to determine both its cellular entry and nuclear pathways. The diblock copolymer (A-C3) is specifically designed to bind and protect pDNA, release it at a specific time, but more importantly, rapidly escape the endosome. The copolymer was taken up by HEK293 cells preferentially via the clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME) pathway, and the pDNA entered the nucleus to produce high gene expression levels in all cells after 48 h, a similar observation to the commercially available polymer transfection agent, PEI Max. This demonstrates that the polymers must first escape the endosome and then mediate transport of pDNA to the nucleus for occurrence of gene expression. The amount of pDNA within the nucleus was found to be higher for our A-C3 polymer than PEI Max, with our polymer delivering 7 times more pDNA than PEI Max after 24 h. We further found that entry into the nucleus was primarily through the small nuclear pores and did not occur during mitosis when the nuclear envelope becomes compromised. The observation that the polymers are also found in the nucleus supports the hypothesis that the large pDNA/polymer complex (size ∼200 nm) must dissociate prior to nucleus entry and that cationic and hydrophobic monomer units on the polymer may facilitate active transport of the pDNA through the nuclear pore.
- nuclear delivery