The Journal of biological chemistry

Highly efficient cellular uptake of a cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) derived from the capsid protein of porcine circovirus type 2.

PMID 30108178


Porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) is one of the smallest, nonenveloped, single-stranded DNA viruses. The PCV2 capsid protein (Cap) is the sole viral structural protein and main antigenic determinant. Previous sequence analysis has revealed that the N terminus of the PCV2 Cap contains a nuclear localization signal (NLS) enriched in positively charged residues. Here, we report that PCV2's NLS can function as a cell-penetrating peptide (CPP). We observed that this NLS can carry macromolecules, e.g. enhanced GFP (EGFP), into cells when they are fused to the NLS, indicating that it can function as a CPP, similar to the classical CPP derived from HIV type 1 transactivator of transcription protein (HIV TAT). We also found that the first 17 residues of the NLS (NLS-A) have a key role in cellular uptake. In addition to entering cells via multiple endocytic processes, NLS-A was also rapidly internalized via direct translocation enabled by increased membrane permeability and was evenly distributed throughout cells when its concentration in cell cultures was ≥10 μm Of note, cellular NLS-A uptake was ∼10 times more efficient than that of HIV TAT. We inferred that the externalized NLS of the PCV2 Cap may accumulate to a high concentration (≥10 μm) at a local membrane area, increasing membrane permeability to facilitate viral entry into the cell to release its genome into a viral DNA reproduction center. We conclude that NLS-A has potential as a versatile vehicle for shuttling foreign molecules into cells, including pharmaceuticals for therapeutic interventions.