Genetica. 2009 Sep 11. [Epub ahead of print]

Labas R, Beilvert F, Barteau B, David S, Chèvre R, Pitard B.

Synthetic gene delivery systems represent an attractive alternative to viral vectors for DNA transfection. Cationic lipids are one of the most widely used non-viral vectors for the delivery of DNA into cultured cells and are easily synthesized, leading to a large variety of well-characterized molecules. This review discusses strategies for the design of efficient cationic lipids that overcome the critical barriers of in vitro transfection. A particular focus is placed on natural hydrophilic headgroups and lipophilic tails that have been used to synthesize biocompatible and non-toxic cationic lipids. We also present chemical features that have been investigated to enhance the transfection efficiency of cationic lipids by promoting the escape of lipoplexes from the endosomal compartment and DNA release from DNA-liposome complexes. Transfection efficiency studies using these strategies are likely to improve the understanding of the mechanism of cationic lipid-mediated gene delivery and to help the rational design of novel cationic lipids.