Over the past couple of decades, the sequences of several cationic and anionic pH-responsive amphiphile fusogenic peptides (FPs) have been reported in the literature. Due to their endosome membrane disrupting activity, these peptides have been routinely used for enhancing the efficacy of drug/gene delivery systems. However, no accurate comparative study has been performed to establish the precise correlation between FP sequence and its impact on enhancing drug/gene delivery efficiency. Therefore, there has been no clear rationale for selecting one FP over another in the past, and it is still unclear which FP is the most suitable and efficient construct for use in drug/gene delivery system design. To address this shortcoming, we examined the use of a recombinant biopolymeric platform as a tool to assess the pH-dependent membrane disruption activity, cell toxicity and impact on gene transfer efficiency of the five most widely used cationic and anionic pH-responsive FPs, INF7, GALA, KALA, H5WYG, and RALA. We first developed specific expression methods for the production of five identical recombinant biopolymers that were different only in FP sequence in their structures. Through the use of physicochemical and biological assays, the biopolymers were characterized and compared in terms of DNA condensation ability, cell toxicity, pH-dependent cell membrane disruption activity, and gene transfer efficiency. Overall, our data suggests that, among the tested constructs, GALA is the most suitable pH-responsive FP for enhancing the efficiency of gene delivery systems due mostly to its efficient endosomolytic activity and negligible cell toxicity. Most importantly, this study demonstrates the application of an effective biopolymeric tool that facilitates reliable evaluation of the physicochemical and biological activities of any pH-responsive FP independent of its charge. Therefore, whether artificially designed or inspired by nature, the FPs can be screened for their efficacy with a higher degree of accuracy in the future.
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