Naked DNA – Definition, Applications, Advantages, Disadvantages

DNA has long been regarded as a critical component in gene therapy. A recent discovery, however, has thrown light on a strange type of DNA that persists in its surrounding environment without any protein or lipid bonds. Because of its possible applications in gene therapy trials, this phenomenon, known as “naked DNA,” has piqued the interest of scientists and researchers.

Traditionally, our understanding of DNA has centred around its tight association with proteins and lipids, which forms a complex network within the cell nucleus. This interaction between DNA and different molecules allows for the execution of critical tasks. As a result, the DNA present within human cells is frequently referred to as “intact DNA,” because it is not bare.


In this essay, we will look into naked DNA and its potential applications in gene therapy. But, before we begin, some fundamental principles must be established.

Gene therapy is a pioneering technology that includes inserting a desired gene into the host genome using various approaches. It usually consists of three parts: the gene of interest, a vector, and a target site. Until recently, it was commonly assumed that because of the repulsion between negatively charged DNA and the cell surface, bare DNA could not be used directly for gene therapy.


The presence of phosphate molecules on DNA provides a negative charge, whereas negatively charged molecules already exist on the cell surface, or membrane. As a result, the comparable negative charges inhibit cells from absorbing DNA, limiting the efficiency of gene therapy.

However, a seminal finding by Wolff et al. in 1990 proved the effective injection of bare DNA straight into mouse myofibers. This unintentional breakthrough resulted in large expression of the injected DNA within the myofibers, ushering in a new age of gene therapy. Since then, scientists have been working hard to develop ways for directly introducing DNA into cells, relying on the potential of naked DNA in this sector.


While naked DNA has showed promise in animal research, it is vital to highlight that there is currently no officially licensed naked DNA-mediated gene therapy for clinical use. However, the widespread use of it in preclinical investigations demonstrates its enormous potential. To properly appreciate the relevance of bare DNA, more research into its characteristics and uses is required. Join us on an illuminating trip through the realm of bare DNA and its significance in transforming gene therapy.

What is naked DNA? 

Naked DNA refers to DNA molecules that are free of proteins and lipids and can be found in the environment. It refers to DNA in its purest, isolated form, free of any protective protein or lipid connections. One frequent type of naked DNA is circular purified plasmid DNA, abbreviated as ‘pDNA.’


The presence of proteins or lipids interacting with DNA is significant because it protects DNA from destruction. As a result, naked or isolated DNA is more vulnerable to damage in the absence of these protective agents. Terje T described naked DNA as any DNA or DNA fragments found outside the laboratory, manufacturing units of gene therapy research, or freely existing in various contexts in a complete 136-page material.

There are several types of bare DNA that can be considered:

  • Protein or lipid-free DNA: DNA molecules that do not include any proteins or lipids.
  • Purely isolated plasmid DNA: Circular DNA molecules such as plasmids that have been purified.
  • DNA present in the surroundings: DNA found in the near environment, such as soil, air, or water.
  • DNA obtained by cell bursting: DNA fragments produced when cells rupture or break.
  • Freely floating DNA: Freely floating DNA is defined as DNA molecules that are not attached to any biological structures and move freely.
  • DNA fragments that have unintentionally escaped from laboratories or manufacturing facilities: DNA fragments that have unintentionally escaped from laboratories or manufacturing facilities.
  • DNA molecules found in soil, air, and water: DNA molecules discovered in diverse environmental materials.
  • Prokaryotic DNA: DNA found in prokaryotic organisms that do not have a nucleus.
  • Extrachromosomal or cytoplasmic DNA: DNA molecules found outside of a cell’s main chromosomal DNA or within its cytoplasm.

Naked DNA can exist in both circular and linear configurations. Plasmid DNA, for example, is often circular, whereas DNA recovered from cell bursting is typically fragmented linear DNA.

It is vital to emphasize that naked DNA is a broad term that includes many different types of DNA that lack protein or lipid connections. Understanding the nature of naked DNA is critical for understanding the possible risks connected with its use as well as assuring safe handling and containment in DNA-related research and applications.


Naked DNA in prokaryotes

Naked DNA refers to DNA molecules that lack protein or lipid connections. In prokaryotes, which lack a nucleus, DNA is normally present in the cytoplasm and is referred to as naked DNA. In prokaryotes, bare DNA is usually tiny and circular in shape, and it does not require substantial packaging with related proteins.

Prokaryotes, such as bacteria, store their genetic material in the cytoplasm as naked DNA. Prokaryotes lack a nuclear membrane, unlike eukaryotes, which have their DNA wrapped within a nucleus. As a result, prokaryotic DNA is not packed into complex structures such as chromosomes and histones.

In prokaryotes, bare DNA takes the form of tiny, circular molecules known as plasmids. These plasmids can exist freely within prokaryotic cells and multiply independently of the primary genomic DNA. Bacterial plasmids frequently contain additional genetic material that might provide benefits to the bacteria, such as antibiotic resistance or the ability to manufacture specific enzymes.

Eukaryotes, on the other hand, have their DNA bundled into linear chromosomes within the nucleus. Eukaryotic DNA is linked to histone proteins and other structural proteins, resulting in a more complex and well-organized structure. In eukaryotes, DNA packaging allows for more control over gene expression and regulation.

To summarize, prokaryotes have bare DNA as their genetic material, whereas eukaryotes have more complicated DNA packing within the nucleus. The existence of naked DNA in prokaryotes enables for efficient replication and gene transfer via plasmids, which contributes to these bacteria’ flexibility and genetic variety.

Naked DNA in eukaryotes

Naked DNA in eukaryotes is a contentious topic, however there is evidence that it exists in some circumstances. While most eukaryotic DNA is structured into chromosomes within the nucleus, naked DNA can be detected in some cases.

One example is organelles having membranes, such as chloroplasts or mitochondria. These organelles have sub-genomes that are distinct from the nuclear chromosomes. Because it is not connected with the same level of protein packaging as nuclear DNA, the DNA within these organelles might be circular or linear in shape.

It is also worth noting that eukaryotic cytoplasm can include DNA fragments, which are referred to as naked DNA when cells burst or lyse. These DNA fragments can be found in the cytoplasm and may have a role in a variety of cellular activities.

Naked DNA is used in molecular biology techniques such as transfection and transformation to introduce foreign genetic material into eukaryotic cells. Transfection involves the introduction of bare DNA into cells using methods such as electroporation or lipofection. Similarly, bare DNA can be taken up by cells during transformation, particularly in specific species such as yeast.

While the prevalence and relevance of naked DNA in eukaryotes is still debated, evidence suggests that it exists in some cellular compartments and can play a role in certain processes. To completely comprehend the magnitude and functional consequences of bare DNA in eukaryotic species, more research is required.

Definition of naked DNA

Naked DNA refers to DNA molecules that are devoid of associated proteins or lipids. It is the isolated form of DNA that is not bound or packaged with proteins such as histones or protected by lipid membranes. Naked DNA can exist as circular or linear molecules and may be found freely in the environment, in the cytoplasm of cells, or within membrane-bounded organelles such as mitochondria or chloroplasts. It can also refer to DNA fragments that have been released from cells through processes like cell bursting or lysis. Naked DNA is often used in molecular biology techniques such as transfection or transformation to introduce foreign genetic material into cells. Its lack of protein or lipid associations makes it more susceptible to degradation and damage compared to DNA that is complexed with proteins or enclosed within membranes.

Applications of naked DNA

Naked DNA refers to DNA that is not protected or encapsulated within a cell or viral envelope. It has several applications in various fields of science and medicine. Here are some of the notable applications of naked DNA:

  1. Gene Therapy: Naked DNA can be used in gene therapy, a field that aims to treat genetic disorders by introducing functional genes into a patient’s cells. In this approach, naked DNA containing the desired gene is directly injected into the patient’s target tissues or cells. Once inside the cells, the DNA can be taken up by the cell’s machinery, leading to the production of the desired protein.
  2. DNA Vaccines: Naked DNA has been used in the development of DNA vaccines. These vaccines work by introducing a small piece of the pathogen’s DNA into the body, triggering an immune response. The immune system recognizes the foreign DNA and mounts an immune response against it, including the production of antibodies. DNA vaccines have shown promise in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and some types of cancers.
  3. Transgenic Organisms: Naked DNA can be used to create transgenic organisms by introducing foreign genes into their genome. This technique has been widely used in scientific research to study gene function and to produce organisms with specific traits or capabilities. For example, scientists have created transgenic plants that are resistant to pests or herbicides by introducing specific genes into their genome via naked DNA.
  4. Genetic Engineering: Naked DNA is a crucial tool in genetic engineering techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA cloning. PCR amplifies specific regions of DNA, allowing researchers to obtain large quantities of DNA for further analysis. DNA cloning involves the insertion of DNA fragments into vectors (such as plasmids) and their subsequent replication in host cells. Naked DNA is essential for these processes.
  5. DNA Barcoding: Naked DNA can be used for DNA barcoding, a technique used to identify and classify species based on their unique DNA sequences. By analyzing specific regions of DNA, scientists can determine the species of an organism or identify unknown samples, such as in forensic investigations or biodiversity studies.
  6. Genetic Testing: Naked DNA can be utilized in genetic testing methods, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or DNA sequencing, to identify genetic mutations associated with diseases or to determine an individual’s genetic predispositions. These tests can provide valuable information for diagnosis, treatment, and personalized medicine.

Naked DNA mediated gene therapy

Naked DNA-mediated gene therapy is a sort of vector-mediated therapy in which DNA is injected directly into cells or tissues without the aid of a viral or non-viral vector. This method is mostly employed in in vivo gene therapy investigations on tissues like the skin, heart muscle, and thymus. It is capable of directly injecting and expressing up to 20 Kb of DNA.

The ability of bare DNA to permeate muscle and liver cells is one of the benefits of employing it in gene therapy. It is not, however, suitable for delivering genes to interior organs. Nonetheless, bare DNA-mediated gene therapy is a simple approach with higher expression levels found in some tissues.

Naked DNA can be synthesized by scientists utilizing recombinant DNA technology, which includes processes such as PCR amplification and gene cloning. The desired DNA is extracted and amplified using PCR in PCR amplification. The purified and measured DNA is then immediately injected into the patient using accessible vectors. The DNA is extracted and integrated into a plasmid by restriction digestion or physical methods in gene cloning. After inserting the plasmid into host cells, copies of the desired gene are extracted, purified, and used for transfer.

However, there are two key issues that researchers face while carrying out bare DNA-mediated gene therapy. For starters, the DNA cannot be injected without causing pores on the cell surface. Second, cells possess a defense mechanism capable of engulfing and destroying foreign DNA. Several ways can be used to overcome these obstacles:

  1. Adding extra sequences: Including additional sequences such as promoters, polyadenylated DNA, an antibiotic-resistant gene, or ORF (open reading frame) for specific proteins can increase the efficiency of naked DNA intake.
  2. Synthetic capsules: Naked DNA cannot directly penetrate the cell membrane due to charge equality. Using synthetic capsules like liposomes can efficiently transfer naked DNA into the host cell. These capsules protect the DNA from nuclease attack.
  3. Techniques: Methods like electroporation, gene gun, or particle bombardment can increase the chances of DNA intake. Other techniques like sonication, photoporation, magnetofection, and hydroboration can also be used alternatively.

According to recent research, contemporary technologies such as electroporation and gene gun are more accurate, dependable, and speedier. These procedures are used to implant genes into internal tissues and to address cardiovascular disorders. Electroporation is the process of creating pores on the cell surface with a high electric current, followed by injecting the encapsulated DNA. The DNA is carried to the nucleus once inside the cell, where it integrates into the host genome and expresses itself. The DNA is subsequently subjected to natural biological processes such as transcription into mRNA, protein translation, and subsequent cellular functions.

The clinical trial phase of naked DNA-mediated gene therapy for peripheral artery occlusive disease has begun. For delivering bare DNA, gene guns and particle bombardment are equally potential solutions.

To summarize, naked DNA-mediated gene therapy entails injecting DNA directly into cells or tissues without the use of viral or non-viral vectors. It has advantages in terms of simplicity of usage and higher levels of expression in some tissues. To increase the intake and expression of bare DNA in target cells, a variety of procedures and strategies can be used.

Naked DNA mediated vaccines

Foreign-pathogenic DNA is used in naked DNA-mediated vaccinations to promote an immune response to infections. The procedure entails removing a gene from a foreign pathogen and inserting it into target cells.

Ulmer et al. pioneered the use of naked DNA as an influenza A vaccine in 1993. They created an expression vector incorporating the influenza A nucleoprotein gene. The DNA was immediately injected into the thigh muscles of mice, and antibodies were found in the samples after a few weeks, demonstrating the gene’s sustained expression. When infected with influenza A, mice treated with bare DNA survived while normal mice perished, demonstrating that the vaccination has a protective effect.

Naked DNA-mediated vaccinations can elicit immunological responses ranging from modest to severe. Researchers are utilizing the potential of bare DNA to induce an immune response unique to the target virus to develop vaccines against diseases such as AIDS.

It is crucial to note, however, that none of the vaccines in this category have yet achieved clinical approval. Naked DNA-mediated vaccine development and testing are continuous processes, and more study is needed to assess their safety and efficacy before they may be widely employed for preventive or therapeutic purposes.

Disadvantages of naked DNA

While naked DNA has potential applications in various fields, there are several limitations and disadvantages associated with its use. Here are some of the drawbacks:

  1. Limited clinical application: Naked DNA-mediated therapy is not yet ready for widespread clinical trials, which means it cannot be used to treat inherited genetic diseases at present.
  2. Low success rate and gene expression: The efficiency of naked DNA-mediated gene transfer is generally lower compared to viral-vector mediated therapy. This can result in a lower success rate and lower levels of gene expression in the target cells.
  3. Lower transfection rate: Naked DNA has a lower transfection rate, meaning it is less effective at delivering genes into cells compared to viral vectors. This can limit its applicability in certain situations where high transfection efficiency is required.
  4. Negligible insertional mutagenesis rate: While naked DNA does not carry the risk of insertional mutagenesis (the integration of foreign DNA into the host genome), this also means it lacks the potential benefits associated with viral vectors, which can integrate genes more efficiently into the host DNA.
  5. Potential oncogenic activation: The use of plasmids as naked DNA therapy may activate oncogenes (genes associated with cancer development) and potentially lead to the development of cancer in treated individuals. This is a concern that needs to be addressed and carefully monitored.

On the positive side, there are a few notable aspects worth mentioning:

  1. Expression vector testing: Scientists can evaluate the efficacy of expression vectors designed for naked DNA by injecting them into mice via the tail vein. This allows for preliminary assessment of gene expression and potential therapeutic effects.
  2. Gene silencing using siRNA: Naked DNA can be used to deliver small interfering RNA (siRNA) for gene silencing purposes. By injecting siRNA intravenously, specific genes can be targeted and their expression suppressed.
  3. Immune response reduction: The immune response to naked DNA can be reduced by incorporating polyadenylated sequences and using less CpG-rich sequences in the plasmid. This modification can enhance transgene expression and potentially minimize adverse immune reactions.

While there are challenges associated with naked DNA, ongoing research and advancements in gene delivery techniques may help overcome some of these limitations and improve its efficacy and safety in the future.

Advantages of using naked DNA

Using naked DNA in gene therapy offers several advantages, as described in the provided content:

  1. Simplicity and ease of use: Naked DNA-mediated gene therapy is a relatively simple and straightforward technique compared to other methods. It can be easily synthesized and administered, making it accessible and practical for researchers.
  2. Large gene capacity: Naked DNA can integrate a transgene or a gene of interest of up to approximately 15 KB in size. This large capacity allows for the delivery of complex genes or gene combinations, providing greater flexibility in therapeutic applications.
  3. Safer alternative to viral vectors: Unlike viral vector-mediated gene therapy, which can induce immune responses and pose potential risks of adverse effects, naked DNA-mediated gene therapy is considered safer. Naked DNA does not carry the same risk of viral infection or immune reactions associated with viral vectors.
  4. Safety for the recipient and the environment: Naked DNA-mediated gene therapy is generally safer for both the recipient and the environment. As it does not involve the use of viral vectors, there is no risk of viral replication or transmission, minimizing potential hazards.
  5. Efficient gene transfer and expression: Naked DNA-mediated gene therapy demonstrates decent efficiency in delivering genes to target cells. It is particularly effective for muscle cells and has shown success in the production of therapeutic proteins such as insulin and clotting factors. Naked DNA exhibits higher expression levels in some tissues, leading to improved therapeutic outcomes.
  6. Synthetic naked DNA particles: Researchers have the capability to synthesize artificial naked DNA particles using recombinant DNA technology. This allows for the customization and design of naked DNA particles for specific applications, providing further flexibility and control in gene therapy approaches.


What is naked DNA?

Naked DNA refers to DNA molecules that are directly injected or administered into cells or tissues without the use of viral or non-viral vectors.

How does naked DNA differ from viral vectors in gene therapy?

Naked DNA does not require the use of viral vectors, making it a safer alternative with reduced risk of immune responses or viral infections associated with viral vector-mediated gene therapy.

What are the applications of naked DNA?

Naked DNA has potential applications in gene therapy, vaccine development, and research studies. It can be used to deliver therapeutic genes, induce immune responses, and study gene expression.

How is naked DNA delivered into cells?

Naked DNA can be delivered into cells through various methods, including direct injection, gene gun or particle bombardment, electroporation, and the use of synthetic carriers such as liposomes.

Can naked DNA be used for gene therapy in internal organs?

Naked DNA is more commonly used for gene therapy in tissues like skin, cardiac muscle, and thymus. It has limitations in delivering genes to internal organs, although some techniques like electroporation have shown promise in expanding its applicability.

Is naked DNA-mediated gene therapy safe?

Naked DNA-mediated gene therapy is considered safer compared to viral vector-based approaches. However, it still requires careful consideration of potential risks such as immune reactions and oncogenic activation.

What is the maximum gene size that naked DNA can accommodate?

Naked DNA can accommodate relatively large genes, with the capacity to deliver genes of up to approximately 15 kilobases (KB) in size.

Can naked DNA induce a strong immune response?

Naked DNA can elicit immune responses, but the strength of the response can vary. Strategies such as incorporating specific sequences and modifying the plasmid structure can help reduce immune reactions.

Are there any clinical trials using naked DNA?

Naked DNA-mediated gene therapy is still in the experimental stage, and there are ongoing clinical trials evaluating its potential for various diseases. However, no naked DNA-based therapies have been approved for clinical use yet.

Can naked DNA be customized for specific gene therapy applications?

Yes, naked DNA can be synthesized and modified using recombinant DNA technology. This allows for the customization of DNA sequences and the design of expression vectors tailored to specific gene therapy applications.

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