Quantification of Cell Penetrating Peptide Uptake By Fluorescent Techniques

  • Ben Staley

Student thesis: Phd


Cell penetrating peptides have been the focus of drug delivery research for 15 years due to their apparent ability to deliver cargoes inside cells more readily than many other carriers. Using two of the most commonly studied peptides (tat47-57 and R9), the present study differs from previous work by deliberately choosing to observe uptake with lower peptide concentrations closer to potential therapeutic doses, and by implementing raster image correlation spectroscopy (RICS) on a commercial microscope to quantify uptake in parallel to other techniques such as fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS), confocal microscopy, and mass spectroscopy.An initial study using mass spectrometry and ExPASy (Expert Protein Analysis System) revealed that the peptides are stable for at least one hour in PBS. Based on this initial information and other experimental conditions, the study took two main directions with regards to the peptide: the membrane interaction and accumulation in the cell.The peptides interaction with the cell membrane revealed that neither tat-TAMRA nor R9-TAMRA disrupts the membrane of cells: incorporation of FM2-10 in the membrane was not modified in K562 cells whilst it was in presence of the control lytic peptides GALA and mellitin. Based on this information confocal microscopy was utilised to assess the localisation on the cell membrane. Peptide binding to the membrane appeared to be heterogeneous in distribution at 1µM bulk concentration.Accumulation in cells of the peptides was observed incubated at 37°C, confocal microscopy showed punctuated distribution with intracellular aggregations of fluorescence measuring between 2.5-3.5µm in diameter. Co-staining with a nuclear dye revealed these aggregations to be focused around the nucleus of the cell. Initial FCS experiments indicated a concentration dependent accumulation of the peptide in the cells and a decrease of the intracellular diffusion coefficients at high concentration possibly corresponding with molecular crowding. Interestingly the anomalous diffusion model did not statistically improve the results.RICS was implemented to study the kinetics of entry of TAMRA labelled cell penetrating peptides in both Caco-2 and HeLa cells lines at concentrations between 500nM and 2µM. Concentrations above 1µM exhibited higher final intracellular concentrations, yet the measured diffusion coefficients were similarly independent of extracellular concentration. Both peptides appeared to enter the cell quickly with a fast initial uptake over the first 10 minutes, reaching a concentration maxima after 30 minutes.Overall, the study reveals that many published studies may be incorrect as they may only be reporting the presence of a fluorescent dye inside the cell not the peptide. The fast binding of the peptide to the membrane is likely to cause false positive results when traditionally studying internalisation kinetics such as using flow cytometry and confocal microscopy. Correlation spectroscopy techniques such as FCS, provide useful information on internalisation of the peptides, but the single spot measurement is limited when providing information on the entire cell. RICS is a progression of correlation spectroscopy and provides a more representative picture of the cell.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlain Pluen (Supervisor), Harmesh Aojula (Supervisor) & Jeffrey Penny (Supervisor)


  • R9
  • RICS
  • tat
  • HeLa
  • K562
  • Raster Image Correlation Spectroscopy
  • Caco-2

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