Membrane-Anchoring, Comb-Like Pseudopeptides for Efficient, pH-Mediated Membrane Destabilization and Intracellular Delivery

Endosomal release has been identified as a rate-limiting step for intracellular delivery of therapeutic agents, in particular macromolecular drugs. Herein, we report a series of synthetic pH-responsive, membrane-anchoring polymers exhibiting dramatic endosomolytic activity for efficient intracellular delivery. The comb-like pseudopeptidic polymers were synthesized by grafting different amounts of decylamine (NDA), which act as hydrophobic membrane anchors, onto the pendant carboxylic acid groups of a pseudopeptide, poly­(l-lysine iso-phthalamide). The effects of the hydrophobic relatively long alkyl side chains on aqueous solution properties, cell membrane destabilization activity, and in-vitro cytotoxicity were investigated. The optimal polymer containing 18 mol % NDA exhibited limited hemolysis at pH 7.4 but induced nearly complete membrane destabilization at endosomal pH within only 20 min. The mechanistic investigation of membrane destabilization suggests the polymer-mediated pore formation. It has been demonstrated that the polymer with hydrophobic side chains displayed a considerable endosomolytic ability to release endocytosed materials into the cytoplasm of various cell lines, which is of critical importance for intracellular drug delivery applications.