Specificity of antisense oligonucleotide derivatives and cellular delivery by cell-penetrating peptides

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Neurochemistry, Stockholm University

Abstract: Atypical gene expression has a major influence on the disease profile of several severe human disorders. Oligonucleotide (ON) based therapeutics has opened an avenue for compensating deviant protein expression by acting on biologically important nucleic acids, mainly RNAs. Antisense ONs (asONs) can be designed to target complementary specific RNA sequences and thereby to influence the corresponding protein synthesis. However, cellular uptake of ONs is poor and is, together with the target specificity of the asONs, the major limiting factor for the development of ON based therapeutics.In this thesis, the mechanisms of well-characterized cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are evaluated and CPPs are adapted for cellular ON-delivery. The functionality of ON derivatives in cells is investigated and by optimization of asONs, targeting pre-messenger RNA, high efficiency and specificity is achieved. The optimization of the asONs is based on sequence design and through the choice of nucleic acid analogue composition. It is concluded that asONs, partly composed of locked nucleic acids are attractive for splice-switching applications but these mixmers must be designed with limited number of locked nucleic acid monomers to avoid risk for off-target activity. A protocol allowing for convenient characterization of internalization routes for CPPs is established and utilized. A mechanistic study on cellular CPP uptake and translocation of associated ON cargo reveals the importance of the optimal combination of for example charge and hydrophobicity of CPPs for efficient cellular uptake. Formation of non-covalent CPP:ON complexes and successful cellular delivery is achieved with a stearylated version of the well-recognized CPP, transportan 10.The results illustrate that CPPs and ON derivatives have the potential to become winning allies in the competition to develop therapeutics regulating specific protein expression patterns involved in the disease profile of severe human disorders.