Effect of Polycation Structure on Interaction with Lipid Membranes

Interaction of polycations with lipid membranes is a very important issue in many biological and medical applications such as gene delivery or antibacterial usage. In this work, we address the influence of hydrophobic substitution of strong polycations containing quaternary ammonium groups on the polymer–zwitterionic membrane interactions. In particular, we focus on the polymer tendency to adsorb on or/and incorporate into the membrane. We used complementary experimental and computational methods to enhance our understanding of the mechanism of the polycation–membrane interactions. Polycation adsorption on liposomes was assessed using dynamic light scattering (DLS) and zeta potential measurements. The ability of the polymers to form hydrophilic pores in the membrane was evaluated using a calcein-release method. The polymer–membrane interaction at the molecular scale was explored by performing atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Our results show that the length of the alkyl side groups plays an essential role in the polycation adhesion on the zwitterionic surface, while the degree of substitution affects the polycation ability to incorporate into the membrane. Both the experimental and computational results show that the membrane permeability can be dramatically affected by the amount of alkyl side groups attached to the polycation main chain.