Cell-penetrating peptides, novel synthetic nucleic acids, and regulation of gene function : Reconnaissance for designing functional conjugates

University dissertation from Stockholm : Institutionen för neurokemi

Abstract: Our genome operates by sending instructions, conveyed by mRNA, for the manufacture of proteins from chromosomal DNA in the nucleus of the cell to the protein synthesizing machinery in the cytoplasm. Alternative splicing is a natural process in which a single gene can encode multiple related proteins. During RNA splicing, introns are selectively removed resulting in alternatively spliced gene products. Alternatively spliced protein products can have very different biological effects, such that one protein isoform is disease-related while another isoform is desirable. Splice switching opens the door to new drug targets, and antisense oligonucleotides (asONs), designed to switch splicing, are effective drug candidates. Cellular uptake of oligonucleotides(ONs) is poor, therefore utilization of cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs), well recognized for intracellular cargo delivery, is a promising approach to overcome this essential issue. Most CPPs are internalized by endocytosis, although the mechanisms involved remain controversial.Here, evaluation of CPP-mediated ON delivery over cellular membranes has been performed. A protocol that allows for convenient assessment of CPP-mediated cellular uptake and characterization of corresponding internalization routes is established. The protocol is based on both fluorometric uptake measurements and a functional splice-switching assay, which in itself is based on biological activity of conveyed ONs. Additionally, splice switching ONs (SSOs) have been optimized for high efficiency and specificity. Data suggest that SSO activity is improved for chimeric phosphorothioate SSOs containing locked nucleic acid (LNA) monomers. It is striking that the LNA monomers in such chimeric constructs give rise to low mismatch discrimination of target pre-mRNA, which highlight the necessity to optimize sequences to minimize risk for off-target effects.The results are important for up-coming work aimed at developing compounds consisting of peptides and novel synthetic nucleic acids, making these entities winning allies in the competition to develop therapeutics regulating protein expression patterns.

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