Molecular Biotechnology

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 237–248

Delivery of DNA into mammalian cells by receptor-mediated endocytosis and gene therapy


  • Jacqueline Guy
    • Laboratory of Gene Structure and ExpressionNational Institute for Medical Research
  • Dubravka Drabek
    • Laboratory of Gene Structure and ExpressionNational Institute for Medical Research
  • Michael Antoniou
    • Laboratory of Gene Structure and ExpressionNational Institute for Medical Research

DOI: 10.1007/BF02789334

Cite this article as:
Guy, J., Drabek, D. & Antoniou, M. Mol Biotechnol (1995) 3: 237. doi:10.1007/BF02789334


The correction of genetically based disorders by the introduction of a therapeutic genetic construct into the appropriate cell type (“gene therapy”), has become a distinct possibility in recent years. In order for gene therapy to be a practical alternative to more conventional pharmaceutical approaches to treatment, it must be administrable in vivo. This demands that a system be developed that can specifically target the DNA to the desired cell type once introduced into the patient. Among the procedures that are currently being pursued, the delivery of DNA to cells by receptor mediated endocytosis (RME), comes closest to fulfilling this crucial requirement.

The natural physiological process of RME can be exploited to deliver genetic material to cells. An antibody or ligand to a cell surface receptor that is known to undergo endocytosis, is complexed with DNA through a covalently linked polycationic adjunct (e.g., polylysine, protamines). Such complexes retain their binding specificity to the cell surface and are taken up into the cell where they enter the endosomal compartment via normal endocytotic processes. In addition, steps must be taken to avoid degradation of the DNA within the endosome-lysosome. Cells can be treated with the lysosomatropic agent chloroquine during the transfection procedure. Alternatively, the components of viruses that enter cells by endocysis and possess an endosomal “break out” capacity can be used. Replication defective adenovirus coupled to the ligand-DNA complex gives transfection efficiencies of virtually 100% on tissue culture cells in vitro. Synthetic peptides that mimic the membrane fusing region of influenza virus hemagglutinin, have also been successfully used as part of the ligand-DNA complex to bring about endosomal escape.

Preliminary studies have demonstrated the potential of this method to specifically target DNA to the cell type of choice in vivo. Delivery of genes by receptor-mediated endocytosis offers the greatest hope that gene therapy can be an inexpensive, easily applicable, widespread technology.

Index entries

Cell transfectionreceptor mediated endocytosisgene therapy

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc 1995