Cell penetrating peptides: a comparative transport analysis for 474 sequence motifs

Delivering reagents into cells is a key demand in molecular medicine. The vehicle of choice is often cell penetrating peptides (CPPs), which can ferry conjugated cargo across membranes. Although numerous peptides have been shown to promote such uptake events, there has been no comprehensive comparison of individual performance under standardized conditions. We have devised a method to rapidly analyze the ability of a multitude of CPP conjugates to carry a model cargo into HeLa cells. Sequence information for 474 CPPs was collected from literature sources, and the respective peptides were synthesized and modified with carboxyfluorescein (FAM) as model cargo. All candidates were evaluated in an identical uptake test, and transport was quantified using cellular fluorescence intensities. Substantial differences in the ability to carry the fluorophore into the cells were observed, with transport performance differing by a factor of 70 between the best CPP investigated and cargo alone. Strong correlations were observed between uptake efficiency and both sequence length and the presence of positive net charge. A compilation of the 20 top performers with regard to cargo delivery performance and cell compatibility is provided.