Identification of proteins released by mammalian cells that mediate DNA internalization through proteoglycan-dependent macropinocytosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Naked DNA plasmid represents the simplest vehicle for gene therapy and DNA-based vaccination purposes; however, the, molecular mechanisms of DNA uptake in mammalian cells are poorly understood. Here, we show that naked DNA uptake occurs via proteoglycan-dependent macropinocytosis, thus challenging the concept of a specific DNA-internalizing receptor. Cells genetically deficient in proteoglycans, which constitute a major source of cell-surface polyanions, exhibited substantially decreased uptake of likewise polyanionic DNA. The apparent paradox was explained by the action of DNA-transporting proteins present in conditioned medium. Complexes between these proteins and DNA require proteoglycans for cellular entry. Mass spectrometry analysis of cell medium components identified several proteins previously shown to associate with DNA and to participate in membrane transport of macromolecular cargo. The major pathway for proteoglycan-dependent DNA uptake was macropinocytosis, whereas caveolae-dependent and clathrin-dependent pathways were not involved, as determined by using caveolin-1 knock-out cells, dominant-negative constructs for dynamin and Eps15, and macropinocytosis- disruptive drugs, as well as confocal fluorescence co-localization studies. Importantly, a significant fraction of internalized DNA was translocated to the nucleus for expression. Our results provide novel insights into the mechanism of DNA uptake by mammalian cells and extend the emerging role of proteoglycans in macromolecular transport.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Infectious Medicine
  • Cancer and Oncology


  • Animals, Biological Transport, CHO Cells, Cell Nucleus, Cricetinae, Cricetulus, Culture Media, DNA, Humans, Mass Spectrometry, Microscopy, Confocal, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Pinocytosis, Polymers, Proteoglycans, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27897-27904
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Sep 21
Publication categoryResearch

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