Use of inert gas jets to measure the forces required for mechanical gene transfection

Guillaume Chouinard-Pelletier, Mathieu Leduc, David Guay, Sylvain Coulombe, Richard L Leask, Elizabeth A V Jones*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Transferring genes and drugs into cells is central to how we now study, identify and treat diseases. Several non-viral gene therapy methods that rely on the mechanical disruption of the plasma membrane have been proposed, but the success of these methods has been limited due to a lack of understanding of the mechanical parameters that lead to cell membrane permeability.

METHODS: We use a simple jet of inert gas to induce local transfection of plasmid DNA both in vitro (HeLa cells) and in vivo (chicken chorioallantoic membrane). Five different capillary tube inner diameters and three different gases were used to treat the cells to understand the dependency of transfection efficiency on the dynamic parameters.

RESULTS: The simple setup has the advantage of allowing us to calculate the forces acting on cells during transfection. We found permeabilization efficiency was related to the dynamic pressure of the jet. The range of dynamic pressures that led to transfection in HeLa cells was small (200 ± 20 Pa) above which cell stripping occurred. We determined that the temporary pores allow the passage of dextran up to 40 kDa and reclose in less than 5 seconds after treatment. The optimized parameters were also successfully tested in vivo using the chorioallantoic membrane of the chick embryo.

CONCLUSIONS: The results show that the number of cells transfected with the plasmid scales with the dynamic pressure of the jet. Our results show that mechanical methods have a very small window in which cells are permeabilized without injury (200 to 290 Pa). This simple apparatus helps define the forces needed for physical cell transfection methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67
JournalBiomedical Engineering Online
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Chorioallantoic Membrane/metabolism
  • Glass
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Mechanical Phenomena
  • Noble Gases
  • Transfection/instrumentation

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