Hydrophobically modified dendrons: Developing structure-activity relationships for DNA binding and gene transfection

Simon P. Jones, Nathan P. Gabrielson, Chun Ho Wong, Hak Fun Chow, Daniel W. Pack, Paola Posocco, Maurizio Fermeglia, Sabrina Pricl, David K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


This paper develops a structure-activity relationship understanding of the way in which surfactant-like dendrons with hydrophilic spermine surface groups and a variety of lipophilic units at their focal points can self-assemble and subsequently bind to DNA with high affinity. The choice of functional group at the focal point of the dendron and the high tunability of the molecular structure have a very significant impact on DNA binding. Mesoscale modeling of the mode of dendron self-assembly provides a direct insight into how the mode of self-assembly exerts its effect on the DNA binding process. In particular, the hydrophobic unit controls the number of dendrons in the self-assembled micellar structures, and hence their diameters and surface charge density. The DNA binding affinity correlates with the surface charge density of the dendron aggregates. Furthermore, these structure-activity effects can also be extended to cellular gene delivery, as surface charge density plays a role in controlling the extent of endosomal escape. It is reported that higher generation dendrons, although binding DNA less strongly than the self-assembling lower generation dendrons, are more effective for transfection. The impact of the lipophilic group at the focal point is less significant for the DNA binding ability of these larger dendrons, which is predominantly controlled by the spermine surface groups, but it does modify the levels of gene transfection. Significant synergistic effects on gene delivery were observed when employing combinations of the dendrons and polyethyleneimine (PEI, 25 kDa), with transfection becoming possible at low loading levels where the two components would not transfect individually, giving practically useful levels of gene delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-429
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 4 2011


  • DNA
  • dendron
  • gene delivery
  • mesoscale modeling
  • self-assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery


Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrophobically modified dendrons: Developing structure-activity relationships for DNA binding and gene transfection'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this