Oligonucleotide Complexes with Cell-Penetrating Peptides Structure, Binding, Translocation and Flux in Lipid Membranes

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Neurochemistry, Stockholm University

Abstract: The ability of cell-penetrating peptides to cross plasma membranes has been explored for various applications, including the delivery of bioactive molecules to inhibit disease-causing cellular processes. The uptake mechanisms by which cell-penetrating peptides enter cells depend on the conditions, such as the cell line the concentration and the temperature. To be used as therapeutics, each novel cell-penetrating peptide needs to be fully characterized, including their physicochemical properties, their biological activity and their uptake mechanism. Our group has developed a series of highly performing, non-toxic cell-penetrating peptides, all derived from the original sequence of transportan 10. These analogs are called PepFects and NickFects and they are now a diverse family of N-terminally stearylated peptides. These peptides are known to form noncovalent, nano-sized complexes with diverse oligonucleotide cargoes. One bottleneck that limits the use of this technology for gene therapy applications is the efficient release of the internalized complexes from endosomal vesicles.The general purpose of this thesis is to reveal the mechanisms by which our in house designed peptides enter cells and allow the successful transport of biofunctional oligonucleotide cargo. To reach this goal, we used both biophysical and cell biology methods. We used spectroscopy methods, including fluorescence, circular dichroism and dynamic light scattering to reveal the physicochemical properties. Using confocal and transmission electron microscopy we observed and tracked the internalization and intracellular trafficking. Additionally we tested the biological activity in vitro and the cellular toxicity of the delivery systems.We conclude that the transport vectors involved in this study are efficient at perturbing lipid membranes, which correlates with their remarkable capacity to transport oligonucleotides into cells. The improved and distinct capacities to escape from endosomal vesicles can be the result of their different structures and hydrophobicity. These findings extend the knowledge of the variables that condition intracellular Cell-penetrating peptide mediated transport of nucleic acids, which ultimately translates into a small step towards successful non-viral gene therapy.