Cationic lipids are a class of lipid molecules with a permanent positive charged head group with structure as exemplified by molecule DOTAP (Figure 1). Because of the structure specialty, Cationic lipid are an amphiphilic entity with a head group having hydrophilicity and lipid tails possessing hydrophobicity.
Figure 1: Structure of DOTAP
The first publication about Cationic lipids to transfect DNA into cells was published by Philip Felgner. Currently, Cationic lipids have become one of few major class of molecules in lipid nanoparticle (LNP) drug delivery vehicles, mRNA vaccine encapsulation. Cationic lipids neutralize negative charges and facilitate encapsulation and cell uptake in lipid nanoparticles (LNP). Usually unsaturated, short (<30 monomer) hydrocarbon chains of the lipids are associated with the highest transduction efficiencies. In aqueous environments, these lipids form micelles with positively charged surfaces that complex with DNA. These lipoplexes act to neutralize charge repulsion between the cell membrane and DNA and promote endocytosis, similar to the mechanism of cationic polymers.
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