Low molecular weight PEI-grafted carboxyl-modified soybean protein as gene carriers with reduced cytotoxicity and greatly improved transfection in vitro

SA-SP-PEI were synthesized via acylation reaction between carboxyl-modified soybean protein (SA-SP) and branched polyethylenimine (PEI) with molecular weight of 600, 1200, and 1800 Da, and designed as SA-SP-PEI600, SA-SP-PEI1200, and SA-SP-PEI1800, respectively. SA-SP-PEI could effectively condense plasmid DNA into nanoscale polyplexes and protect them from enzymatic digestion. MTT assay revealed that SA-SP-PEI exhibited reduced cytotoxicity on 293 T and SH-SY5Y cells. SA-SP-PEI1800/DNA complexes hold highest transfection efficiency on 293 T and SH-SY5Y cells with or without 10% serum, which was owing to its better serum stable and improved biocompatibility. Such polycationic soybean proteins have great potentials as gene carriers by further optimization.