Polyamines such as spermidine and spermine are abundant in living cells and are believed to aid in the dense packaging of cellular DNA. DNA condensation is a prerequisite for the transport of gene vectors in living cells. To elucidate the structural features of polyamines governing DNA condensation, we studied the collapse of λ-DNA by spermine and a series of its homologues, H2N(CH2)3NH (CH2)n=2-12NH (CH2)3NH2 (n = 4 for spermine), using static and dynamic light scattering techniques. All polyamines provoked DNA condensation; however, their efficacy varied with the structural geometry of the polyamine. In 10 mM sodium cacodylate buffer, the EC50 values for DNA condensation were comparable (4 ± 1 μM) for spermine homologues with n = 4-8, whereas the lower and higher homologues provoked DNA condensation at higher EC50 values. The EC50 values increased with an increase in the monovalent ion (Na+) concentration in the buffer. The slope of a plot of log EC50(polyamine4+)] against log [Na+] was ∼ 1.5 for polyamines with even number values of n, whereas the slope value was ̃ 1 for compounds with odd number values of n. Dynamic light scattering measurements showed the presence of compact particles with hydrodynamic radii (Rh) of about 40-50 nm for compounds with n = 3-6. Rh increased with further increase in methylene chain length separating the secondary amino groups of the polyamines (Rh = 60-70 nm for n = 7 - 10 and > 100 nm for n = 11 and 12). Determination of the relative binding affinity of polyamines to DNA using an ethidium bromide displacement assay showed that homologues with n = 2 and 3 as well as those with n > 7 had significantly lower DNA binding affinity compared to spermine and homologues with n = 5 and 6. These data suggest that the chemical structure of isovalent polyamines exerts a profound influence on their ability to recognize and condense DNA, and on the size of the DNA condensates formed in aqueous solution.
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