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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mechanistic studies of intracellular delivery of proteins by cell-penetrating peptides in cyanobacteria

Betty R Liu1, Yue-Wern Huang2 and Han-Jung Lee1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, National Dong Hwa University, Hualien 97401, Taiwan

2 Department of Biological Sciences, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO 65409-1120, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:57  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-57

Published: 14 March 2013

Abstract

Background

The plasma membrane plays an essential role in selective permeability, compartmentalization, osmotic balance, and cellular uptake. The characteristics and functions of cyanobacterial membranes have been extensively investigated in recent years. Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are special nanocarriers that can overcome the plasma membrane barrier and enter cells directly, either alone or with associated cargoes. However, the cellular entry mechanisms of CPPs in cyanobacteria have not been studied.

Results

In the present study, we determine CPP-mediated transduction efficiency and internalization mechanisms in cyanobacteria using a combination of biological and biophysical methods. We demonstrate that both Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 and Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 strains of cyanobacteria possess red autofluorescence. Green fluorescent protein (GFP), either alone or noncovalently associated with a CPP comprised of nine arginine residues (R9/GFP complexes), entered cyanobacteria. The ATP-depleting inhibitor of classical endocytosis, N-ethylmaleimide (NEM), could block the spontaneous internalization of GFP, but not the transduction of R9/GFP complexes. Three specific inhibitors of macropinocytosis, cytochalasin D (CytD), 5-(N-ethyl-N-isopropyl)-amiloride (EIPA), and wortmannin, reduced the efficiency of R9/GFP complex transduction, indicating that entry of R9/GFP complexes involves macropinocytosis. Both the 1-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-3,5-diphenylformazan (MTT) and membrane leakage analyses confirmed that R9/GFP complexes were not toxic to the cyanobacteria, nor were the endocytic and macropinocytic inhibitors used in these studies.

Conclusions

In summary, we have demonstrated that cyanobacteria use classical endocytosis and macropinocytosis to internalize exogenous GFP and CPP/GFP proteins, respectively. Moreover, the CPP-mediated delivery system is not toxic to cyanobacteria, and can be used to investigate biological processes at the cellular level in this species. These results suggest that both endocytic and macropinocytic pathways can be used for efficient internalization of regular protein and CPP-mediated protein delivery in cyanobacteria, respectively.

Keywords:
Cell-penetrating peptide (CPP); Endocytosis; Green fluorescent protein (GFP); Macropinocytosis; Protein transduction; Red fluorescent protein (RFP)