Mechanism of endosomal escape by p H -responsive nucleic-acid vectors

Shih Min Chang, Chia Ying Yu, Yi Fan Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Successful intracellular delivery of nucleic acids (NAs) hinges on many factors, one of them being NAs' efficacious escape from endosomes. As competent NA vectors, pH-responsive gemini surfactants (GSs) might achieve high efficacy by facilitating endosomal escape. However, how the GSs assist the escape remains debated as many proposed mechanisms still lack experimental support, which hinders replication and further improvement of the efficient delivery. Here, via UV, fluorescence spectroscopy, and small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), we examined a pH-responsive GS's and a pH-unresponsive GS's capabilities to compact DNA and withstand binding competition, and their interactions with model endosomal and lysosomal membranes, at varied pHs. Acidification-driven enhancement of DNA-compaction capability and of stability against binding competition were found specific to the pH-responsive GS. Alongside the pH-responsive GS's structural perturbation to the membranes as observed with SANS, the features suggest that pH-responsive GSs facilitate endosomal escape by releasing excess GS molecules from DNA-GS complexes upon acidification in endosome maturation, with the released GS molecules disrupting endosomal and lysosomal membranes and thereby assisting the escape. A general design principle for NA vectors is proposed on the basis of this experimental finding.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034408
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022


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