Impact of physicochemical properties of DNA/PEI complexes on transient transfection of mammalian cells

I. González-Domínguez, N. Grimaldi, L. Cervera, N. Ventosa, F. Gòdia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch

22 Citations (Scopus)


© 2018 Elsevier B.V. Polyethyleneimine (PEI) has been used extensively for transient gene expression (TGE) in mammalian cell cultures. However, the relationship between DNA/PEI complex preparation and their biological activity has not been fully established. Here, a systematic study of DNA/PEI complexes, their physicochemical properties during formation and their transfection efficiency was performed on a virus-like particle (VLP) production platform. The same chemically defined cell culture medium for DNA/PEI complex formation was used as an alternative to simple ionic solutions to minimize changes in complex properties during transfection. Upon formation, an initial concentration of 1E + 10 DNA/PEI complexes/mL underwent partial aggregation with an average size of 300 nm. The participation of NaCl ions in the evolution of complexes was analyzed by X-ray spectroscopy, stressing the relevance of complexing media composition in TGE strategies. After 15 min incubation, 250 complexes plus aggregates per cell were estimated at the time of transfection. Such heterogeneous preparations cannot be easily characterized; subsequently, nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) and cryo-electron microscopy were combined to achieve a complete picture of the preparation. Finally, the contribution of each DNA/PEI complex subpopulation was tested by drug inhibition endocytosis. Interestingly, all complexes delivered DNA efficiently and high size aggregates, which enter through macropinocytosis, when inhibited presented a major contribution to transfection efficiency. There is a need to understand the physicochemical factors that participate in DNA delivery protocols. Hence, this study provides new insights into the characterization of DNA/PEI complexes that will assist in more productive and reproducible TGE strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-97
Number of pages10
JournalNew Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2019


  • DNA/PEI complexes
  • Electron microscopy
  • GAG
  • Mammalian cells
  • PEI
  • Particle tracking analysis
  • Transient transfection


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