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1.  Peptide nucleic acid (PNA) cell penetrating peptide (CPP) conjugates as carriers for cellular delivery of antisense oligomers 
Artificial DNA, PNA & XNA  2011;2(3):90-99.
We have explored the merits of a novel delivery strategy for the antisense oligomers based on cell penetrating peptide (CPP) conjugated to a carrier PNA with sequence complementary to part of the antisense oligomer. The effect of these carrier CPP-PNAs was evaluated by using antisense PNA targeting splicing correction of the mutated luciferase gene in the HeLa pLuc705 cell line, reporting cellular (nuclear) uptake of the antisense PNA via luciferase activity measurement. Carrier CPP-PNA constructs were studied in terms of construct modification (with octaarginine and/or decanoic acid) and carrier PNA length (to adjust binding affinity). In general, the carrier CPP-PNA constructs including the ones with decanoyl modification provided significant increase of the activity of unmodified antisense PNA as well as of antisense octaarginine-PNA conjugates. Antisense activity, and by inference cellular delivery, of unmodified antisense PNA was enhanced at least 20-fold at 6 μM upon the complexation with an equimolar amount of nonamer carrier decanoyl-CPP-PNA (Deca-cPNA1(9)-(D-Arg)8). The antisense activity of a CPP-PNA ((D-Arg)8-asPNA) (at 2 μM) was improved 6-fold and 8-fold by a heptamer carrier CPP-PNA (cPNA1(7)-(D-Arg)8) and hexamer carrier decanoyl-CPP-PNA (Deca-cPNA1(6)-(D-Arg)8), respectively, without showing significant additional cellular toxicity. Most interestingly, the activity reached the same level obtained by enhancement with endosomolytic chloroquine (CQ) treatment, suggesting that the carrier might facilitate endosomal escape. Furthermore, 50% downregulation of luciferase expression at 60 nM siRNA was obtained using this carrier CPP-PNA delivery strategy (with CQ co-treatment) for a single stranded antisense RNA targeting normal luciferase mRNA. These results indicated that CPP-PNA carriers may be used as effective cellular delivery vectors for different types of antisense oligomers and also allows use of combinations of (at least two) different CPP ligands.
PMCID: PMC3324339  PMID: 22567192
antisense; carrier; cell penetrating peptide (CPP); cellular delivery; peptide nucleic acid (PNA); siRNA
2.  Subnanomolar antisense activity of phosphonate-peptide nucleic acid (PNA) conjugates delivered by cationic lipids to HeLa cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(13):4424-4432.
In the search of facile and efficient methods for cellular delivery of peptide nucleic acids (PNA), we have synthesized PNAs conjugated to oligophosphonates via phosphonate glutamine and bis-phosphonate lysine amino acid derivatives thereby introducing up to twelve phosphonate moieties into a PNA oligomer. This modification of the PNA does not interfere with the nucleic acid target binding affinity based on thermal stability of the PNA/RNA duplexes. When delivered to cultured HeLa pLuc705 cells by Lipofectamine, the PNAs showed dose-dependent nuclear antisense activity in the nanomolar range as inferred from induced luciferase activity as a consequence of pre-mRNA splicing correction by the antisense-PNA. Antisense activity depended on the number of phosphonate moieties and the most potent hexa-bis-phosphonate-PNA showed at least 20-fold higher activity than that of an optimized PNA/DNA hetero-duplex. These results indicate that conjugation of phosphonate moieties to the PNA can dramatically improve cellular delivery mediated by cationic lipids without affecting on the binding affinity and sequence discrimination ability, exhibiting EC50 values down to one nanomolar. Thus the intracellular efficacy of PNA oligomers rival that of siRNA and the results therefore emphasize that provided sufficient in vivo bioavailability of PNA can be achieved these molecules may be developed into potent gene therapeutic drugs.
PMCID: PMC2490735  PMID: 18596083
3.  Down-regulation of MDM2 and activation of p53 in human cancer cells by antisense 9-aminoacridine–PNA (peptide nucleic acid) conjugates 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(16):4893-4902.
A series of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligomers targeting the mdm2 oncogene mRNA has been tested for the ability to inhibit the growth of JAR cells. The effect of these PNAs on the cells was also reflected in reduced levels of the MDM2 protein and increased levels of the p53 tumor suppressor protein, which is negatively regulated by MDM2. Initially, PNA oligomers were delivered as DNA complexes with lipofectamine, but it was discovered that PNA conjugated to the DNA intercalator 9-aminoacridine (Acr) (Acr–PNA) could be effectively delivered to JAR cells (as well as to HeLa pLuc705 cells) even in the absence of a DNA carrier. Using such lipofectamine-delivered Acr–PNA conjugates, one PNA targeting a cryptic AUG initiation site was identified that at a concentration of 2 μM caused a reduction of MDM2 levels to ∼20% (but no reduction in mdm2 mRNA levels) and a 3-fold increase in p53 levels, whereas a 2-base mismatch control had no such effects. Furthermore, transcriptional activation by p53 was also increased (6-fold), and cell viability was reduced to 80%. Finally, this PNA acted cooperatively with camptothecin treatment both with regard to p53 activity induction as well as cell viability. Using this novel cell delivery system, we have identified a target on the mdm2 mRNA that appears sensitive to antisense inhibition by PNA and therefore could be used as a lead for further development of mdm2-targeted antisense (PNA and other) gene therapeutic anticancer drugs.
PMCID: PMC519114  PMID: 15371552
4.  Delivery of cell-penetrating peptide-peptide nucleic acid conjugates by assembly on an oligonucleotide scaffold 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:17640.
Delivery to intracellular target sites is still one of the main obstacles in the development of peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) as antisense-antigene therapeutics. Here, we designed a self-assembled oligonucleotide scaffold that included a central complementary region for self-assembly and lateral regions complementing the PNAs. Assembly of cell-penetrating peptide (CPP)-PNAs on the scaffold significantly promoted endocytosis of PNAs by at least 10-fold in cell cultures, particularly for scaffolds in which the central complementary region was assembled by poly(guanine) and poly(cytosine). The antisense activity of CPP-PNAs increased by assembly on the scaffold and was further enhanced after co-assembly with endosomolytic peptide (EP)-PNA. This synergistic effect was also observed following the assembly of antigene CPP-PNAs\EP-PNAs on the scaffold. However, antigene activity was only observed by targeting episomal viral DNA or transfected plasmids, but not the chromosome in the cell cultures. In conclusion, assembly on oligonucleotide scaffolds significantly enhanced the antisense-antigene activity of PNAs by promoting endocytosis and endosomal escape. This oligonucleotide scaffold provided a simple strategy for assembly of multiple functional peptide-PNA conjugates, expanding the applications of PNAs and demonstrating the potential of PNAs as antiviral therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4661726  PMID: 26612536
5.  Improved cell-penetrating peptide–PNA conjugates for splicing redirection in HeLa cells and exon skipping in mdx mouse muscle 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(20):6418-6428.
Steric blocking peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligonucleotides have been used increasingly for redirecting RNA splicing particularly in therapeutic applications such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Covalent attachment of a cell-penetrating peptide helps to improve cell delivery of PNA. We have used a HeLa pLuc705 cell splicing redirection assay to develop a series of PNA internalization peptides (Pip) conjugated to an 18-mer PNA705 model oligonucleotide with higher activity compared to a PNA705 conjugate with a leading cell-penetrating peptide being developed for therapeutic use, (R-Ahx-R)4. We show that Pip–PNA705 conjugates are internalized in HeLa cells by an energy-dependent mechanism and that the predominant pathway of cell uptake of biologically active conjugate seems to be via clathrin-dependent endocytosis. In a mouse model of DMD, serum-stabilized Pip2a or Pip2b peptides conjugated to a 20-mer PNA (PNADMD) targeting the exon 23 mutation in the dystrophin gene showed strong exon-skipping activity in differentiated mdx mouse myotubes in culture in the absence of an added transfection agent at concentrations where naked PNADMD was inactive. Injection of Pip2a-PNADMD or Pip2b-PNADMD into the tibealis anterior muscles of mdx mice resulted in ∼3-fold higher numbers of dystrophin-positive fibres compared to naked PNADMD or (R-Ahx-R)4-PNADMD.
PMCID: PMC2582604  PMID: 18842625
6.  Delivery of Antisense Peptide Nucleic Acids to Cells by Conjugation with Small Arginine-Rich Cell-Penetrating Peptide (R/W)9 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104999.
Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) are very attractive antisense and antigene agents, but these molecules are not passively taken into cells. Here, using a functional cell assay and fluorescent-based methods, we investigated cell uptake and antisense activity of a tridecamer PNA that targets the HIV-1 polypurine tract sequence delivered using the arginine-rich (R/W)9 peptide (RRWWRRWRR). At micromolar concentrations, without use of any transfection agents, almost 80% inhibition of the target gene expression was obtained with the conjugate in the presence of the endosomolytic agent chloroquine. We show that chloroquine not only induced escape from endosomes but also enhanced the cellular uptake of the conjugate. Mechanistic studies revealed that (R/W)9-PNA conjugates were internalized via pinocytosis. Replacement of arginines with lysines reduced the uptake of the conjugate by six-fold, resulting in the abolition of intracellular target inhibition. Our results show that the arginines play a crucial role in the conjugate uptake and antisense activity. To determine whether specificity of the interactions of arginines with cell surface proteoglycans result in the internalization, we used flow cytometry to examine uptake of arginine- and lysine-rich conjugates in wild-type CHO-K1 and proteoglycan-deficient A745 cells. The uptake of both conjugates was decreased by four fold in CHO-745 cells; therefore proteoglycans promote internalization of cationic peptides, irrespective of the chemical nature of their positive charges. Our results show that arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptides, especially (R/W)9, are a promising tool for PNA internalization.
PMCID: PMC4134252  PMID: 25127364
7.  Comparison of Cationic and Amphipathic Cell Penetrating Peptides for siRNA Delivery and Efficacy 
Molecular Pharmaceutics  2011;9(2):299-309.
Cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) are short strands of arginine and/or lysine-rich peptides (<30 amino acids) that use their cationic nature for efficient intracellular accumulation. CPPs have been used for small interfering RNA (siRNA) delivery by direct complexation with the siRNA anionic phosphate backbone. During this process, however, part of the CPP cationic charges are neutralized, and the resultant loss of free positive charges may substantially compromise CPP’s internalization capabilities and eventually reduce siRNA delivery efficiency. The purpose of this study was to design a novel type of polyplex for siRNA delivery to overcome the CPP neutralization issue. This novel polyplex consists of three components: siRNA, 21mer oligolysine (K21) chemically modified to incorporate CPP conjugation sites (K21-PDP), and CPP delivery moiety. The siRNA was first neutralized by cationic charges of K21-PDP to form a polyplex. Then a cationic (hexa-arginine – R6) or an amphipathic (model amphipathic peptide – MAP) CPP was conjugated to the polyplex. Agarose gel shift assays indicated that the siRNA could be released from the polyplex after K21-PDP degradation or polyplex dilution. Furthermore, the total intracellular internalization of these two CPP-polyplexes was studied. Compared with R6-polyplex, MAP-polyplex exhibited 170 and 600-fold greater uptake of fluorescently-labeled siRNA at 1 and 6 h post-transfection, respectively. MAP-polyplex also exhibited comparable GFP silencing effects as Lipofectamine 2000 complex in Huh7.5 cells stably transfected to express GFP-LC3, whereas R6-polyplex did not demonstrate significant silencing activity. Further studies indicated that the K21-PDP/siRNA polyplex formation and conjugation of MAP to the polyplex were essential for siRNA polyplex uptake and gene silencing. MAP-polyplex was also shown to be unaffected by the presence of 10% FBS during transfection. In addition, MAP-polyplex uptake was dependent on vesicle formation and fusion due to 70 and 54% loss of uptake at 4 and 16°C, respectively, compared to incubation at 37°C. Therefore, the amphipathic CPP is a more suitable carrier moiety for delivery of siRNA polyplex.
PMCID: PMC3273621  PMID: 22171592
Cell penetrating peptides; siRNA; siRNA delivery; oligoarginine; model amphipathic peptide; polyplex; membrane transduction peptides
8.  Antisense peptide nucleic acid-functionalized cationic nanocomplex for in vivo mRNA detection 
Interface Focus  2013;3(3):20120059.
Acute lung injury (ALI) is a complex syndrome with many aetiologies, resulting in the upregulation of inflammatory mediators in the host, followed by dyspnoea, hypoxemia and pulmonary oedema. A central mediator is inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) that drives the production of NO and continued inflammation. Thus, it is useful to have diagnostic and therapeutic agents for targeting iNOS expression. One general approach is to target the precursor iNOS mRNA with antisense nucleic acids. Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) have many advantages that make them an ideal platform for development of antisense theranostic agents. Their membrane impermeability, however, limits biological applications. Here, we report the preparation of an iNOS imaging probe through electrostatic complexation between a radiolabelled antisense PNA-YR9 · oligodeoxynucleotide (ODN) hybrid and a cationic shell-cross-linked knedel-like nanoparticle (cSCK). The Y (tyrosine) residue was used for 123I radiolabelling, whereas the R9 (arginine9) peptide was included to facilitate cell exit of untargeted PNA. Complete binding of the antisense PNA-YR9 · ODN hybrid to the cSCK was achieved at an 8 : 1 cSCK amine to ODN phosphate (N/P) ratio by a gel retardation assay. The antisense PNA-YR9 · ODN · cSCK nanocomplexes efficiently entered RAW264.7 cells, whereas the PNA-YR9 · ODN alone was not taken up. Low concentrations of 123I-labelled antisense PNA-YR9 · ODN complexed with cSCK showed significantly higher retention of radioactivity when iNOS was induced in lipopolysaccharide+interferon-γ-activated RAW264.7 cells when compared with a mismatched PNA. Moreover, statistically, greater retention of radioactivity from the antisense complex was also observed in vivo in an iNOS-induced mouse lung after intratracheal administration of the nanocomplexes. This study demonstrates the specificity and sensitivity by which the radiolabelled nanocomplexes can detect iNOS mRNA in vitro and in vivo and their potential for early diagnosis of ALI.
PMCID: PMC3638413  PMID: 24427537
cationic nanoparticles; acute lung injury; peptide nucleic acid; inducible nitric oxide synthase; radiolabelling; targeting
9.  Use of Peptide Nucleic Acids to Manipulate Gene Expression in the Malaria Parasite Plasmodium falciparum 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e86802.
One of the major concerns in treating malaria by conventional small drug molecules is the rapid emergence of drug resistance. Specific silencing of essential genes by antisense oliogomers has been proposed as an alternative approach that may result in antimalarial activity which is not associated with drug resistance. In addition, such an approach could be an important biological tool for studying many genes' function by reverse genetics. Here we present a novel methodology of using peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) as a useful tool for gene silencing in Plasmodium falciparum. PNAs, designed as specific antisense molecules, were conjugated to a cell penetrating peptide (CPP); namely, octa-D-lysine via the C-terminus, to allow facile delivery through cell membranes. PNAs added to P. falciparum cultures were found exclusively in infected erythrocytes and were eventually localized in nuclei of the parasites at all stages of intra erythrocytic development. We show that these PNAs specifically down regulated both a stably expressed transgene as well as an endogenous essential gene, which significantly reduced parasites' viability. This study paves the way for a simple approach to silence a variety of P. falciparum genes as means of deciphering their function and potentially to develop highly specific and potent antimalarial agents.
PMCID: PMC3899306  PMID: 24466246
10.  Inhibiting Gene Expression with Peptide Nucleic Acid (PNA)–Peptide Conjugates that Target Chromosomal DNA 
Biochemistry  2007;46(25):7581-7589.
Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) are a nonionic DNA/RNA mimic that can recognize complementary sequences by Watson–Crick base–pairing. The neutral PNA backbone facilitates recognition of duplex DNA by strand invasion, suggesting that antigene PNAs (agPNAs) can be important tools for exploring the structure and function of chromosomal DNA inside cells. However, before agPNAs can enter wide use it will be necessary to develop straightforward strategies for introducing them into cells. Here we demonstrate that agPNA–peptide conjugates can target promoter DNA and block progesterone receptor (PR) gene expression inside cells. Thirty–six agPNA–peptide conjugates were synthesized and tested. We observed inhibition of gene expression using cationic peptides containing either arginine or lysine residues, with eight or more cationic amino acids being preferred. Both thirteen and nineteen base agPNA-peptide conjugates were inhibitory. Inhibition was observed in human cancer cell lines expressing either high or low levels of progesterone receptor. Modification of agPNA–peptide conjugates with hydrophobic amino acids or small molecule hydrophobic moities yielded improved potency. Inhibition by agPNAs did not require cationic lipid or any other additive, but adding agents to cell growth media that promote endosomal release caused modest increases in agPNA potency. These data demonstrate that chromosomal DNA is accessible to agPNA–peptide conjugates and that chemical modifications can improve potency.
PMCID: PMC2564818  PMID: 17536840
11.  Formulation of a Peptide Nucleic Acid Based Nucleic Acid Delivery Construct 
Bioconjugate chemistry  2010;21(3):445-455.
Gene delivery biomaterials need to be designed to efficiently achieve nuclear delivery of plasmid DNA. Polycations have been used to package DNA and other nucleic acids within sub-micron sized particles, offering protection from shear-induced or enzymatic degradation. However, cytotoxicity issues coupled with limited in vivo transfection efficiencies minimize the effectiveness of this approach. In an effort to improve upon existing technologies aimed at delivering nucleic acids, an alternative approach to DNA packaging was explored. Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) were used to directly functionalize DNA with poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) chains that provide a steric layer and inhibit multimolecular aggregation during complexation. DNA prePEGylation by this strategy was predicted to enable the formation of more homogeneous and efficiently packaged polyplexes.
In this work, DNA-PNA-peptide-PEG (DP3) conjugates were synthesized and self-assembled with 25 kDa poly(ethylenimine) (PEI). Complexes with small standard deviations and average diameters ranging from 30 – 50 nm were created, with minimal dependence of complex size on N:P ratio (PEI amines to DNA phosphates). Furthermore, PEI-DNA interactions were altered by the derivitization strategy, resulting in tighter compaction of the PEI-DP3 complexes in comparison with PEI-DNA complexes. Transfection experiments in Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells revealed comparable transfection efficiencies but reduced cytotoxicities of the PEI-DP3 complexes relative to PEI-DNA complexes. The enhanced cellular activities of the PEI-DP3 complexes were maintained following the removal of free PEI from the PEI-DP3 formulations, whereas the cellular activity of the conventional PEI-DNA formulations was reduced by free PEI removal. These findings suggest that DNA prePEGylation by the PNA-based strategy might provide a way to circumvent cytotoxicity and formulation issues related to the use of PEI for in vivo gene delivery.
PMCID: PMC2891923  PMID: 20131756
12.  Synthesis and Splice-Redirecting Activity of Branched, Arginine-Rich Peptide Dendrimer Conjugates of Peptide Nucleic Acid Oligonucleotides 
Bioconjugate Chemistry  2010;21(10):1902-1911.
Arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptides have found excellent utility in cell and in vivo models for enhancement of delivery of attached charge-neutral PNA or PMO oligonucleotides. We report the synthesis of dendrimeric peptides containing 2- or 4-branched arms each having one or more R-Ahx-R motifs and their disulfide conjugation to a PNA705 splice-redirecting oligonucleotide. Conjugates were assayed in a HeLa pLuc705 cell assay for luciferase up-regulation and splicing redirection. Whereas 8-Arg branched peptide−PNA conjugates showed poor activity compared to a linear (R-Ahx-R)4−PNA conjugate, 2-branched and some 4-branched 12 and 16 Arg peptide−PNA conjugates showed activity similar to that of the corresponding linear peptide−PNA conjugates. Many of the 12- and 16-Arg conjugates retained significant activity in the presence of serum. Evidence showed that biological activity in HeLa pLuc705 cells of the PNA conjugates of branched and linear (R-Ahx-R) peptides is associated with an energy-dependent uptake pathway, predominantly clathrin-dependent, but also with some caveolae dependence.
PMCID: PMC2963316  PMID: 20879728
13.  Targeted gene correction using psoralen, chlorambucil and camptothecin conjugates of triplex forming peptide nucleic acid (PNA) 
Artificial DNA, PNA & XNA  2011;2(1):23-32.
Gene correction activation effects of a small series of triplex forming peptide nucleic acid (PNA) covalently conjugated to the DNA interacting ligands psoralen, chlorambucil and camptothecin targeted proximal to a stop codon mutation in an EGFP reporter gene were studied. A 15-mer homopyrimidine PNA conjugated to the topoisomerase I inhibitor camptothecin was found to increase the frequency of repair domain mediated gene correctional events of the EGFP reporter in an in vitro HeLa cell nuclear extract assay, whereas PNA psoralen or chlorambucil conjugates both of which form covalent and also interstrand crosslinked adducts with dsDNA dramatically decreased the frequency of targeted repair/correction. The PNA conjugates were also studied in mammalian cell lines upon transfection of PNA bound EGFP reporter vector and scoring repair of the EGFP gene by FACS analysis of functional EGFP expression. Consistent with the extract experiments, treatment with adduct forming PNA conjugates (psoralen and chlorambucil) resulted in a decrease in background correction frequencies in transiently transfected cells, whereas unmodified PNA or the PNA-camptothecin conjugate had little or no effect. These results suggest that simple triplex forming PNAs have little effect on proximal gene correctional events whereas PNA conjugates capable of forming DNA adducts and interstrand crosslinks are strong inhibitors. Most interestingly the PNA conjugated to the topoisomerase inhibitor, camptothecin enhanced repair in nuclear extract. Thus the effects and use of camptothecin conjugates in gene targeted repair merit further studies.
PMCID: PMC3116579  PMID: 21686249
PNA; triplex; gene correction; repair; DNA modification
14.  An Efficient Biodelivery System for Antisense Polyamide Nucleic Acid (PNA) 
Oligonucleotides  2008;18(3):245-255.
With the aim of developing a general and straightforward procedure for the intracellular delivery of naked peptide nucleic acids (PNAs), we designed an intracellularly biodegradable triphenylphosphonium (TPP) cation based transporter system. In this system, TPP is linked, via a biolabile disulfide bridge, to an activated mercaptoethoxycarbonyl moiety, allowing its direct coupling to the N-terminal extremity of a free PNA through a carbamate bond. We found that such TPP-PNA-carbamate conjugates were highly stable in a cell culture medium containing fetal calf serum. In a glutathione-containing medium mimicking the cytosol, the conjugates were rapidly degraded into an unstable intermediate, which spontaneously decomposed, releasing the free PNA. Using a fluorescence-labeled PNA–TPP conjugate, we demonstrated that conjugates were taken up by cells. Efficient cellular uptake and release of the PNA into the cytosol was further confirmed by the anti-HIV activity measured for the TPP-conjugate of a 16-mer PNA targeting the TAR region of the HIV-1 genome. This conjugate exhibited an IC50 value of 1 μM, while the free 16-mer PNA did not inhibit replication of HIV in the same cellular test.
PMCID: PMC2966830  PMID: 18707540
15.  Cell-penetrating peptide conjugates of peptide nucleic acids (PNA) as inhibitors of HIV-1 Tat-dependent trans-activation in cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(21):6837-6849.
The trans-activation response (TAR) RNA stem–loop that occurs at the 5′ end of HIV RNA transcripts is an important antiviral target and is the site of interaction of the HIV-1 Tat protein together with host cellular factors. Oligonucleotides and their analogues targeted to TAR are potential antiviral candidates. We have investigated a range of cell penetrating peptide (CPP) conjugates of a 16mer peptide nucleic acid (PNA) analogue targeted to the apical stem–loop of TAR and show that disulfide-linked PNA conjugates of two types of CPP (Transportan or a novel chimeric peptide R6-Penetratin) exhibit dose-dependent inhibition of Tat-dependent trans-activation in a HeLa cell assay when incubated for 24 h. Activity is reached within 6 h if the lysosomotropic reagent chloroquine is co-administered. Fluorescein-labelled stably-linked conjugates of Tat, Transportan or Transportan TP10 with PNA were inactive when delivered alone, but attained trans-activation inhibition in the presence of chloroquine. Confocal microscopy showed that such fluorescently labelled CPP–PNA conjugates were sequestered in endosomal or membrane-bound compartments of HeLa cells, which varied in appearance depending on the CPP type. Co-administration of chloroquine was seen in some cases to release fluorescence from such compartments into the nucleus, but with different patterns depending on the CPP. The results show that CPP–PNA conjugates of different types can inhibit Tat-dependent trans-activation in HeLa cells and have potential for development as antiviral agents. Endosomal or membrane release is a major factor limiting nuclear delivery and trans-activation inhibition.
PMCID: PMC1301599  PMID: 16321967
16.  Targeting peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligomers to mitochondria within cells by conjugation to lipophilic cations: implications for mitochondrial DNA replication, expression and disease 
Nucleic Acids Research  2001;29(9):1852-1863.
The selective manipulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication and expression within mammalian cells has proven difficult. One promising approach is to use peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligomers, nucleic acid analogues that bind selectively to complementary DNA or RNA sequences inhibiting replication and translation. However, the potential of PNAs is restricted by the difficulties of delivering them to mitochondria within cells. To overcome this problem we conjugated a PNA 11mer to a lipophilic phosphonium cation. Such cations are taken up by mitochondria through the lipid bilayer driven by the membrane potential across the inner membrane. As anticipated, phosphonium–PNA (ph–PNA) conjugates of 3.4–4 kDa were imported into both isolated mitochondria and mitochondria within human cells in culture. This was confirmed by using an ion-selective electrode to measure uptake of the ph–PNA conjugates; by cell fractionation in conjunction with immunoblotting; by confocal microscopy; by immunogold-electron microscopy; and by crosslinking ph–PNA conjugates to mitochondrial matrix proteins. In all cases dissipating the mitochondrial membrane potential with an uncoupler prevented ph–PNA uptake. The ph–PNA conjugate selectively inhibited the in vitro replication of DNA containing the A8344G point mutation that causes the human mtDNA disease ‘myoclonic epilepsy and ragged red fibres’ (MERRF) but not the wild-type sequence that differs at a single nucleotide position. Therefore these modified PNA oligomers retain their selective binding to DNA and the lipophilic cation delivers them to mitochondria within cells. When MERRF cells were incubated with the ph–PNA conjugate the ratio of MERRF to wild-type mtDNA was unaffected, even though the ph–PNA content of the mitochondria was sufficient to inhibit MERRF mtDNA replication in a cell-free system. This unexpected finding suggests that nucleic acid derivatives cannot bind their complementary sequences during mtDNA replication. In summary, we have developed a new strategy for targeting PNA oligomers to mitochondria and used it to determine the effects of PNA on mutated mtDNA replication in cells. This work presents new approaches for the manipulation of mtDNA replication and expression, and will assist in the development of therapies for mtDNA diseases.
PMCID: PMC37250  PMID: 11328868
17.  Modulation of mdm2 pre-mRNA splicing by 9-aminoacridine-PNA (peptide nucleic acid) conjugates targeting intron-exon junctions 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:342.
Modulation of pre-mRNA splicing by antisense molecules is a promising mechanism of action for gene therapeutic drugs. In this study, we have examined the potential of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) 9-aminoacridine conjugates to modulate the pre-mRNA splicing of the mdm2 human cancer gene in JAR cells.
We screened 10 different 15 mer PNAs targeting intron2 at both the 5' - and the 3'-splice site for their effects on the splicing of mdm2 using RT-PCR analysis. We also tested a PNA (2512) targeting the 3'-splice site of intron3 with a complementarity of 4 bases to intron3 and 11 bases to exon4 for its splicing modulation effect. This PNA2512 was further tested for the effects on the mdm2 protein level as well as for inhibition of cell growth in combination with the DNA damaging agent camptothecin (CPT).
We show that several of these PNAs effectively inhibit the splicing thereby producing a larger mRNA still containing intron2, while skipping of exon3 was not observed by any of these PNAs. The most effective PNA (PNA2406) targeting the 3'-splice site of intron2 had a complementarity of 4 bases to intron2 and 11 bases to exon3. PNA (2512) targeting the 3'-splice site of intron3 induced both splicing inhibition (intron3 skipping) and skipping of exon4. Furthermore, treatment of JAR cells with this PNA resulted in a reduction in the level of MDM2 protein and a concomitant increase in the level of tumor suppressor p53. In addition, a combination of this PNA with CPT inhibited cell growth more than CPT alone.
We have identified several PNAs targeting the 5'- or 3'-splice sites in intron2 or the 3'-splice site of intron3 of mdm2 pre-mRNA which can inhibit splicing. Antisense targeting of splice junctions of mdm2 pre-mRNA may be a powerful method to evaluate the cellular function of MDM2 splice variants as well as a promising approach for discovery of mdm2 targeted anticancer drugs.
PMCID: PMC2910690  PMID: 20591158
18.  Nanoparticle for delivery of antisense γPNA oligomers targeting CCR5 
Artificial DNA, PNA & XNA  2013;4(2):49-57.
The development of a new class of peptide nucleic acids (PNAs), i.e., gamma PNAs (γPNAs), creates the need for a general and effective method for its delivery into cells for regulating gene expression in mammalian cells. Here we report the antisense activity of a recently developed hydrophilic and biocompatible diethylene glycol (miniPEG)-based gamma peptide nucleic acid called MPγPNAs via its delivery by poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA)-based nanoparticle system. We show that MPγPNA oligomers designed to bind to the selective region of Chemokine Receptor 5 (CCR5) transcript, induce potent and sequence-specific antisense effects as compared with regular PNA oligomers. In addition, PLGA nanoparticle delivery of MPγPNAs is not toxic to the cells. The findings reported in this study provide a combination of γPNA technology and PLGA-based nanoparticle delivery method for regulating gene expression in live cells via the antisense mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3771998  PMID: 23954968
CCR5; PEG; PNA; antisense; nanoparticle; γPNA
19.  Peptide nucleic acids inhibit growth of Brucella suis in pure culture and in infected murine macrophages 
International journal of antimicrobial agents  2013;41(4):10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2012.11.017.
Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) are single-stranded, synthetic nucleic acid analogues containing a pseudopeptide backbone in place of the phosphodiester sugar–phosphate. When PNAs are covalently linked to cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) they readily penetrate the bacterial cell envelope, inhibit expression of targeted genes and cause growth inhibition both of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. However, the effectiveness of PNAs against Brucella, a facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen, was unknown. The susceptibility of a virulent Brucella suis strain to a variety of PNAs was assessed in pure culture as well as in murine macrophages. The studies showed that some of the PNAs targeted to Brucella genes involved in DNA (polA, dnaG, gyrA), RNA (rpoB), cell envelope (asd), fatty acid (kdtA, acpP) and protein (tsf) synthesis inhibit the growth of B. suis in culture and in macrophages after 24 h of treatment. PNA treatment inhibited Brucella growth by interfering with gene expression in a sequence-specific and dose-dependent manner at micromolar concentrations. The most effective PNA in broth culture was that targeting polA at ca. 12 μM. In contrast, in B. suis-infected macrophages, the most effective PNAs were those targeting asd and dnaG at 30 μM; both of these PNAs had little inhibitory effect on Brucella in broth culture. The polA PNA that inhibits wild-type B. suis also inhibits the growth of wild-type Brucella melitensis 16M and Brucella abortus 2308 in culture. This study reveals the potential usefulness of antisense PNA constructs as novel therapeutic agents against intracellular Brucella.
PMCID: PMC3834731  PMID: 23305655
Peptide nucleic acid (PNA); Brucella; Antibiotic resistance; Antisense; Murine macrophage
20.  Targeting Listeria Monocytogenes rpoA and rpoD Genes Using Peptide Nucleic Acids 
Nucleic Acid Therapeutics  2013;23(5):363-367.
Treating intracellular pathogens remains a considerable medical challenge because of the inefficient intracellular delivery of antimicrobials and the frequent emergence of bacterial resistance to therapeutic agents deemed the drugs of last resort. We investigated the capability of antisense peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) conjugated to the (KFF)3K cell penetrating peptide to target RNA polymerase α subunit (rpoA) and RNA polymerase sigma 70 (rpoD) in the intracellular pathogen Listeria monocytogenes. The PNAs tested displayed a concentration dependent inhibition of L. monocytogenes growth in pure culture at the micromolar level and significantly reduced intracellular L. monocytogenes in infected cell culture and Caenorhabditis elegans whole animal model. In vitro, the combined PNAs treatment was synergistic resulting in a clearance of L. monocytogenes at 0.5× the individual PNA concentration. This study demonstrates the potential of anti-rpoA PNA as an antibacterial agent and will provide the basis for improving and developing these PNAs to better target intracellular pathogens like Listeria. This study also establishes C. elegans as a potential model for the screening of PNAs.
PMCID: PMC3760085  PMID: 23859300
21.  Therapeutic Potential of Cell Penetrating Peptides (CPPs) and Cationic Polymers for Chronic Hepatitis B 
Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection remains a major health problem worldwide. Because current anti-HBV treatments are only virostatic, there is an urgent need for development of alternative antiviral approaches. In this context, cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) and cationic polymers, such as chitosan (CS), appear of particular interest as nonviral vectors due to their capacity to facilitate cellular delivery of bioactive cargoes including peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) or DNA vaccines. We have investigated the ability of a PNA conjugated to different CPPs to inhibit the replication of duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV), a reference model for human HBV infection. The in vivo administration of PNA-CPP conjugates to neonatal ducklings showed that they reached the liver and inhibited DHBV replication. Interestingly, our results indicated also that a modified CPP (CatLip) alone, in the absence of its PNA cargo, was able to drastically inhibit late stages of DHBV replication. In the mouse model, conjugation of HBV DNA vaccine to modified CS (Man-CS-Phe) improved cellular and humoral responses to plasmid-encoded antigen. Moreover, other systems for gene delivery were investigated including CPP-modified CS and cationic nanoparticles. The results showed that these nonviral vectors considerably increased plasmid DNA uptake and expression. Collectively promising results obtained in preclinical studies suggest the usefulness of these safe delivery systems for the development of novel therapeutics against chronic hepatitis B.
PMCID: PMC4691041  PMID: 26633356
hepatitis B; antiviral therapy; cell penetrating peptides (CPPs); chitosan (CS); catonic polymers; peptide nucleic acids (PNAs); hepatitis B virus (HBV); duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV); DNA vaccine; gene delivery; antigen (Ag)
22.  Effective delivery of antisense peptide nucleic acid oligomers into cells by anthrax protective antigen 
Peptide nucleic acid (PNA) is highly stable and binds to complementary RNA and DNA with high affinity, but it resists cellular uptake, thereby limiting its bioavailability. We investigated whether protective antigen (PA, a non-toxic component of anthrax toxin) could transport antisense PNA oligomers into reporter cells that contain luciferase transgenes with mutant β-globin IVS2 intronic inserts, which permit aberrant pre-mRNA splicing and impair luciferase expression. PNA oligomers antisense to mutant splice sites in these IVS2 inserts induced luciferase expression when effectively delivered into the cells. PNA 18-mers with C-terminal poly-lysine tails [PNA(Lys)8] demonstrated modest sequence-specific antisense activity by themselves at micromolar concentrations in luc-IVS2 reporter cell cultures. However, this activity was greatly amplified by PA. Antisense PNA(Lys)8 with but not without PA also corrected the IVS2-654 β-globin splice defect in cultured erythroid precursor cells from a patient with β-thalassemia [genotype, IVS2-654(β0/βE)], providing further evidence that anthrax PA can effectively transport antisense PNA oligomers into cells.
PMCID: PMC2581503  PMID: 18774771
peptide nucleic acid; antisense; anthrax protective antigen
23.  Chemical vectors for gene delivery: a current review on polymers, peptides and lipids containing histidine or imidazole as nucleic acids carriers 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2009;157(2):166-178.
DNA/cationic lipid (lipoplexes), DNA/cationic polymer (polyplexes) and DNA/cationic polymer/cationic lipid (lipopolyplexes) electrostatic complexes are proposed as non-viral nucleic acids delivery systems. These DNA-nanoparticles are taken up by the cells through endocytosis processes, but the low capacity of DNA to escape from endosomes is regarded as the major limitations of their transfection efficiency. Here, we present a current report on a particular class of carriers including the polymers, peptides and lipids, which is based on the exploitation of the imidazole ring as an endosome destabilization device to favour the nucleic acids delivery in the cytosol. The imidazole ring of histidine is a weak base that has the ability to acquire a cationic charge when the pH of the environment drops bellow 6. As it has been demonstrated for poly(histidine), this phenomena can induce membrane fusion and/or membrane permeation in an acidic medium. Moreover, the accumulation of histidine residues inside acidic vesicles can induce a proton sponge effect, which increases their osmolarity and their swelling. The proof of concept has been shown with polylysine partially substituted with histidine residues that has caused a dramatic increase by 3–4.5 orders of magnitude of the transfection efficiency of DNA/polylysine polyplexes. Then, several histidine-rich polymers and peptides as well as lipids with imidazole, imidazolinium or imidazolium polar head have been reported to be efficient carriers to deliver nucleic acids including genes, mRNA or SiRNA in vitro and in vivo. More remarkable, histidylated carriers are often weakly cytotoxic, making them promising chemical vectors for nucleic acids delivery.
This article is part of a themed section on Vector Design and Drug Delivery. For a list of all articles in this section see the end of this paper, or visit:
PMCID: PMC2697805  PMID: 19459843
non-viral vectors; gene transfer; SiRNA; cationic lipids; cationic polymers; pH-sensitive membrane fusion; pH-sensitive membrane permeation; endosome escape; fusogenic peptides; imidazolinium and imidazolium
24.  Co-delivery of DNA and siRNA via Arginine-Rich PEI-based Polyplexes 
Molecular pharmaceutics  2015;12(2):621-629.
In this study, we formulated polyplexes with different compositions for co-delivery of DNA and small-interfering RNA (siRNA). Since DNA and siRNA have distinctive and complementary morphological characteristics (DNA is long and winding and siRNA is short and rigid), we hypothesized that their co-delivery using polyplex would enhance each other's transfection. To test this hypothesis, cationic polymer branched polyethylenimine (bPEI) as a standard transfecting agent and its derivative arginine-rich oligopeptide-grafted bPEI modified with polyethylene glycol (P(SiDAAr)5P3), synthesized in our laboratory, were used as carriers for transfection. Polyplexes at different nucleic acid to polymer weight ratios were characterized for transfection in breast cancer sensitive (MCF-7) and resistant (MCF-7/Adr) cell lines. Gene silencing effect of polyplexes was determined in MDA-MB-231-luc-D3H2LN cell line. The results demonstrated that the polyplexes formed with derivative P(SiDAAr)5P3 show significantly lower toxicity compared to polyplexes formed using bPEI. Further, co-delivery resulted in 20-fold higher DNA transfection and 2-fold higher siRNA transfection as compared to the respective single nucleotide delivery. DNA transfection was ∼100 fold lower in resistant MCF-7/Adr cells than in sensitive MCF-7 cells. Confocal imaging and flow cytometry data demonstrated that enhanced transfection does not solely depend on DNA's cellular uptake, suggesting that other mechanisms contribute to increased transfection. DNA-co-siRNA delivery could be a promising therapeutic approach to achieve synergistic effects, because it can simultaneously target and interfere with multiple regulatory levels in a cell to halt and reverse disease progression.
PMCID: PMC4314506  PMID: 25591125
combination therapy; non-viral gene delivery; cancer therapy; cationic polymers; cellular uptake
25.  Potent and sustained cellular inhibition of miR-122 by lysine-derivatized peptide nucleic acids (PNA) and phosphorothioate locked nucleic acid (LNA)/2'-O-methyl (OMe) mixmer anti-miRs in the absence of transfection agents 
Artificial DNA, PNA & XNA  2011;2(3):71-78.
Efficient cell delivery of antisense oligonucleotides (ONs) is a key issue for their potential therapeutic use. It has been shown recently that some ONs can be delivered into cells without the use of transfection agents (gymnosis), but this generally requires cell incubation over several days and high amounts of ONs (micromolar concentrations). Here we have targeted microRNA 122 (miR-122), a small non-coding RNA involved in regulation of lipid metabolism and in the replication of hepatitis C virus, with ONs of different chemistries (anti-miRs) by gymnotic delivery in cell culture. Using a sensitive dual-luciferase reporter assay, anti-miRs were screened for their ability to enter liver cells gymnotically and inhibit miR-122 activity. Efficient miR-122 inhibition was obtained with cationic PNAs and 2'-O-methyl (OMe) and Locked Nucleic Acids (LNA)/OMe mixmers containing either phosphodiester (PO) or phosphorothioate (PS) linkages at sub-micromolar concentrations when incubated with cells for just 4 hours. Furthermore, PNA and PS-containing anti-miRs were able to sustain miR-122 inhibitory effects for at least 4 days. LNA/OMe PS anti-miRs were the most potent anti-miR chemistry tested in this study, an ON chemistry that has been little exploited so far as anti-miR agents towards therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3324337  PMID: 22567190
2’-O-Methyl; anti-miR; delivery; Gymnosis; Locked Nucleic Acids; miR-122; miRNA; Peptide Nucleic Acids; phosphorothioate; transfection

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