Screening for effective cell-penetrating peptides with minimal impact on epithelial cells and gut commensals in vitro
One of the biggest challenges for oral drug absorption is the epithelial barrier of the gastrointestinal tract. The use of cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) to modulate the epithelial barrier function is known to be an effective strategy to improve drug absorption and bioavailability. In this study we compare side-by-side, 9 most promising CPPs to study their cytotoxicity (Cytotox Red dye staining) and cell viability (AlamarBlue staining) on epithelial cells and their effects on paracellular permeability of the intestinal barrier in vitro in a differentiated Caco-2 epithelial monolayer model. The data revealed that 4 out of 9 well-studied CPPs significantly improved Caco-2 paracellular permeability without compromising on cellular health. To assess the impact of CPPs on the human microbiota we studied the antimicrobial effects of the 4 effective CPPs from our permeation studies against 10 representative strains of the gut microbiota in vitro using microbroth dilution. Our data revealed that these 4 CPPs affected the growth of almost all tested commensal strains. Interestingly, we found that two synthetic CPPs (Shuffle and Penetramax) outperformed all the other CPPs in their ability to increase intestinal paracellular permeability at 50 µM and had only a small to moderate effect on the tested gut commensal strains. Based on these data Shuffle and Penetramax represent relevant CPPs to be further characterized in vivo for safe delivery of poorly absorbed therapeutics while minimizing negative impacts on the gut microbiota.