Efficient Delivery of Cyclic Peptides into Mammalian Cells with Short Sequence Motifs

Cyclic peptides hold great potential as therapeutic agents and research tools, but their broad application has been limited by poor membrane permeability. Here, we report a potentially general approach for intracellular delivery of cyclic peptides. Short peptide motifs rich in arginine and hydrophobic residues (e.g., FΦRRRR, where Φ is l-2-naphthylalanine), when embedded into small- to medium-sized cyclic peptides (7–13 amino acids), bound to the plasma membrane of mammalian cultured cells and were subsequently internalized by the cells. Confocal microscopy and a newly developed peptide internalization assay demonstrated that cyclic peptides containing these transporter motifs were translocated into the cytoplasm and nucleus at efficiencies 2–5-fold higher than that of nonaarginine (R<sub>9</sub>). Furthermore, incorporation of the FΦRRRR motif into a cyclic peptide containing a phosphocoumaryl aminopropionic acid (pCAP) residue generated a cell permeable, fluorogenic probe for detecting intracellular protein tyrosine phosphatase activities.