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Delivery of small interfering RNAs in human cervical cancer cells by polyethylenimine-functionalized carbon nanotubes

Yuan-Pin Huang1, I-Jou Lin2, Chih-Chen Chen3, Yi-Chiang Hsu4, Chi-Chang Chang3 and Mon-Juan Lee2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cosmetics and Fashion Styling, Cheng Shiu University, Kaohsiung 83347, Taiwan

2 Department of Bioscience Technology, Chang Jung Christian University, No. 1 Changda Rd., Gueiren District, Tainan City 71101, Taiwan

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, E-Da Hospital, Kaohsiung 82445, Taiwan

4 Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Chang Jung Christian University, Tainan 71101, Taiwan

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Nanoscale Research Letters 2013, 8:267  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-8-267

Published: 6 June 2013


Carbon nanotubes are capable of penetrating the cell membrane and are widely considered as potential carriers for gene or drug delivery. Because the C-C and C=C bonds in carbon nanotubes are nonpolar, functionalization is required for carbon nanotubes to interact with genes or drugs as well as to improve their biocompatibility. In this study, polyethylenimine (PEI)-functionalized single-wall (PEI-NH-SWNTs) and multiwall carbon nanotubes (PEI-NH-MWNTs) were produced by direct amination method. PEI functionalization increased the positive charge on the surface of SWNTs and MWNTs, allowing carbon nanotubes to interact electrostatically with the negatively charged small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and to serve as nonviral gene delivery reagents. PEI-NH-MWNTs and PEI-NH-SWNTs had a better solubility in water than pristine carbon nanotubes, and further removal of large aggregates by centrifugation produced a stable suspension of reduced particle size and improved homogeneity and dispersity. The amount of grafted PEI estimated by thermogravimetric analysis was 5.08% (w/w) and 5.28% (w/w) for PEI-NH-SWNTs and PEI-NH-MWNTs, respectively. For the assessment of cytotoxicity, various concentrations of PEI-NH-SWNTs and PEI-NH-MWNTs were incubated with human cervical cancer cells, HeLa-S3, for 48 h. PEI-NH-SWNTs and PEI-NH-MWNTs induced cell deaths in a dose-dependent manner but were less cytotoxic compared to pure PEI. As determined by electrophoretic mobility shift assay, siRNAs directed against glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (siGAPDH) were completely associated with PEI-NH-SWNTs or PEI-NH-MWNTs at a PEI-NH-SWNT/siGAPDH or PEI-NH-MWNT/siGAPDH mass ratio of 80:1 or 160:1, respectively. Furthermore, PEI-NH-SWNTs and PEI-NH-MWNTs successfully delivered siGAPDH into HeLa-S3 cells at PEI-NH-SWNT/siGAPDH and PEI-NH-MWNT/siGAPDH mass ratios of 1:1 to 20:1, resulting in suppression of the mRNA level of GAPDH to an extent similar to that of DharmaFECT, a common transfection reagent for siRNAs. Our results indicate that the PEI-NH-SWNTs and PEI-NH-MWNTs produced in this study are capable of delivering siRNAs into HeLa-S3 cells to suppress gene expression and may therefore be considered as novel nonviral gene delivery reagents.

SWNTs; MWNTs; PEI; Small interfering RNA; Gene delivery