The absorption of drugs is limited by the epithelial barriers of the gastrointestinal
tract. One of the strategies to improve drug delivery is the modulation of barrier
function by the targeted opening of epithelial tight junctions. In our previous study
the 18-mer amphiphilic PN159 peptide was found to be an effective tight junction modulator
on intestinal epithelial and blood⁻brain barrier models. PN159, also known as KLAL
or MAP, was described to interact with biological membranes as a cell-penetrating
peptide. In the present work we demonstrated that the PN159 peptide as a penetration
enhancer has a dual action on intestinal epithelial cells. The peptide safely and
reversibly enhanced the permeability of Caco-2 monolayers by opening the intercellular
junctions. The penetration of dextran molecules with different size and four efflux
pump substrate drugs was increased several folds. We identified claudin-4 and -7 junctional
proteins by docking studies as potential binding partners and targets of PN159 in
the opening of the paracellular pathway. In addition to the tight junction modulator
action, the peptide showed cell membrane permeabilizing and antimicrobial effects.
This dual action is not general for cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs), since the other
three CPPs tested did not show barrier opening effects.