Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Liposome-based DNA carriers may induce cellular stress response and change gene expression pattern in transfected cells

Anna Fiszer-Kierzkowska1, Natalia Vydra1, Aleksandra Wysocka-Wycisk12, Zuzana Kronekova13, Michał Jarząb1, Katarzyna Marta Lisowska1* and Zdzisław Krawczyk14

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Translational Research and Molecular Biology of Cancer (previously Department of Tumor Biology), Maria Skłodowska-Curie Memorial Center and Institute of Oncology, Gliwice Branch, ul. Wybrzeże Armii Krajowej 15, 44-101 Gliwice, Poland

2 Regional Blood Center, Tissue Bank Department, ul. Raciborska 15, 40-074 Katowice, Poland

3 Polymer Institute, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Dubravska cesta 9, 845 41 Bratislava 45, Slovak Republic

4 Department of Organic, Bioorganic Chemistry and Biotechnology, Silesian Technical University, ul. Krzywoustego 4, 44-100 Gliwice, Poland

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BMC Molecular Biology 2011, 12:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-12-27

Published: 10 June 2011



During functional studies on the rat stress-inducible Hspa1b (hsp70.1) gene we noticed that some liposome-based DNA carriers, which are used for transfection, induce its promoter activity. This observation concerned commercial liposome formulations (LA), Lipofectin and Lipofectamine 2000. This work was aimed to understand better the mechanism of this phenomenon and its potential biological and practical consequences.


We found that a reporter gene driven by Hspa1b promoter is activated both in the case of transient transfections and in the stably transfected cells treated with LA. Using several deletion clones containing different fragments of Hspa1b promoter, we found that the regulatory elements responsible for most efficient LA-driven inducibility were located between nucleotides -269 and +85, relative to the transcription start site. Further studies showed that the induction mechanism was independent of the classical HSE-HSF interaction that is responsible for gene activation during heat stress. Using DNA microarrays we also detected significant activation of the endogenous Hspa1b gene in cells treated with Lipofectamine 2000. Several other stress genes were also induced, along with numerous genes involved in cellular metabolism, cell cycle control and pro-apoptotic pathways.


Our observations suggest that i) some cationic liposomes may not be suitable for functional studies on hsp promoters, ii) lipofection may cause unintended changes in global gene expression in the transfected cells.