Structural Comparisons of PEI/DNA and PEI/siRNA Complexes Revealed with Molecular Dynamics Simulations


Polyplexes composed of polyethyleneimine (PEI) and DNA or siRNA have attracted great attention for their use in gene therapy. Although many physicochemical characteristics of these polyplexes remain unknown, PEI/DNA complexes have been repeatedly shown to be more stable than their PEI/siRNA counterparts. Here, we examine potential causes for this difference using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations of complexation between linear PEI and DNA or siRNA duplexes containing the same number of bases. The two types of polyplexes are stabilized by similar interactions, as PEI amines primarily interact with nucleic acid phosphate groups but also occasionally interact with groove atoms of both nucleic acids. However, the number of interactions in PEI/DNA complexes is greater than in comparable PEI/siRNA complexes, with interactions between protonated PEI amines and DNA being particularly enhanced. These results indicate that structural differences between DNA and siRNA may play a role in the increased stability of PEI/DNA complexes. In addition, we investigate the binding of PEI chains to polyplexes that have a net positive charge. The binding of PEI to these overcharged complexes involves interactions between PEI and areas on the nucleic acid surface that have maintained a negative electrostatic potential and is facilitated by the release of water from the nucleic acid.

Publication Title

Journal of Physical Chemistry B