The genetic modification of human T lymphocytes with established non-viral methods is inefficient. Linear polyethylenimine (l-PEI), one of the most popular non-viral transfection agents for mammalian cells in general, only achieves transfection rates in the single digit percentage range for these cells. Here, a well-defined 24-armed poly(2-dimethylamino) ethyl methacrylate (PDMAEMA) nanostar (number average of the molecular weight: 755 kDa, polydispersity: <1.21) synthesized via atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) from a silsesquioxane initiator core is proposed as alternative. The agent is used to prepare polyplexes with plasmid DNA (pDNA). Under optimal conditions these polyplexes reproducibly transfect >80% of the cells from a human T-cell leukemia cell line (Jurkat cells) at viabilities close to 90%. The agent also promotes pDNA uptake when simply added to a mixture of cells and pDNA. This constitutes a particular promising approach for efficient transient transfection at large scale. Finally, preliminary experiments were carried out with primary T cells from two different donors. Results were again significantly better than for l-PEI, although further research into the response of individual T cells to the transfection agent will be necessary, before either method can be used to routinely transfect primary T lymphocytes.
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