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Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are short cationic/amphipathic peptides that can be used to deliver a variety of cargos into cells. However, it is still debated which routes CPPs employ to gain access to intracellular compartments. To assess this, most previously conducted studies have relied on information which is gained by using fluorescently labeled CPPs. More relevant information whether the internalized conjugates are biologically available has been gathered using end-point assays with biological readouts. Uptake kinetic studies have shed even more light on the matter because the arbitrary choice of end-point might have profound effect how the results could be interpreted. To elucidate uptake mechanisms of CPPs, here we have used a bioluminescence based assay to measure cytosolic delivery kinetics of luciferin-CPP conjugates in the presence of endocytosis inhibitors. The results suggest that these conjugates are delivered into cytosol mainly via macropinocytosis; clathrin-mediated endocytosis and caveolae/lipid raft dependent endocytosis are involved in a smaller extent. Furthermore, we demonstrate how the involved endocytic routes and internalization kinetic profiles can depend on conjugate concentration in case of certain peptides, but not in case of others. The employed internalization route, however, likely dictates the intracellular fate and subsequent trafficking of internalized ligands, therefore emphasizing the importance of our novel findings for delivery vector development.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochim Biophys Acta

Publication Date





502 - 511


Cell-Penetrating Peptides, Cytosol, Endocytosis, Firefly Luciferin, HeLa Cells, Humans, Kinetics