Vesicles Mimicking Normal and Cancer Cell Membranes Exhibit Differential Responses to the Cell-penetrating Peptide Pep-1

Funding Source

NIH, National Science Foundation HBCU-UP Research Initiation Awards

Grant Number

8G12MD007595, 1411209.


Department of Physics and Computer Science - Dual Degree Engineering

Document Type


Publication Date



The cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) Pep-1 presents a great potential in drug delivery due to its intrinsic property to cross plasma membrane. However, its mechanism of entry into the cell remains unresolved. In this study, we compare the selectivity of Pep-1 towards vesicles mimicking normal and cancer cell membranes. The interaction was performed in a wide range of peptide-to-lipid molar ratios using infrared (IR), fluorescence, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) techniques. At low peptide concentration, fluorescence experiments show that lipid-phosphatidylserine (PS) seems to enable Pep-1 translocation into cancer cell membrane as evidenced by the blue shift of its maximal emission wavelength. DSC data show that Pep-1 induces segregation of lipids. At high peptide concentration, IR data indicate that the interaction of Pep-1 is relatively stronger with normal cell membrane than with cancer cell membrane through the phosphate groups, while the interaction is weaker with normal cell membrane than with cancer cell membrane through the carbonyl groups. TGA and DSC data reveal that vesicles of normal cell membrane are thermally more stable than vesicles of cancer cell membrane. This suggests that the additional lipid PS included in cancer cell membrane has a destabilizing effect on the membrane structure. SEM images reveal that Pep-1 form superstructures including spherical particles and fibrils in the presence of both model membranes. PS seems to enhance peptide transport across cellular membranes. The biophysical techniques in this study provide valuable insights into the properties of CPPs in drug delivery systems.