A general and convenient solid-phase synthesis method using Cu(i)-mediated alkyne–azide click chemistry for attachment of an azide derivative of a fluorescent label to an alkyne derivative of a peptide conjugated to a morpholino oligonucleotide (PMO).
We describe a general methodology for fluorescent labelling of peptide conjugates of phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotides (PMOs) by alkyne functionalization of peptides, subsequent conjugation to PMOs and labelling with a fluorescent compound (Cy5-azide). Two peptide–PMO (PPMO) examples are shown. No detrimental effect of such labelled PMOs was seen in a biological assay.
The knockdown of myostatin, a negative regulator of skeletal muscle mass may have
important implications in disease conditions accompanied by muscle mass loss like cancer,
HIV/AIDS, sarcopenia, muscle atrophy, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). In DMD
patients, where major muscle loss has occurred due to a lack of dystrophin, the
therapeutic restoration of dystrophin expression alone in older patients may not be
sufficient to restore the functionality of the muscles. We recently demonstrated that
phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMOs) can be used to re-direct myostatin splicing
and promote the expression of an out-of-frame transcript so reducing the amount of the
synthesized myostatin protein. Furthermore, the systemic administration of the same PMO
conjugated to an octaguanidine moiety (Vivo-PMO) led to a significant increase in the mass
of soleus muscle of treated mice. Here, we have further optimized the use of Vivo-PMO in
normal mice and also tested the efficacy of the same PMO conjugated to an arginine-rich
cell-penetrating peptide (B-PMO). Similar experiments conducted in mdx dystrophic mice
showed that B-PMO targeting myostatin is able to significantly increase the tibialis
anterior (TA) muscle weight and when coadministered with a B-PMO targeting the dystrophin
exon 23, it does not have a detrimental interaction. This study confirms that myostatin
knockdown by exon skipping is a potential therapeutic strategy to counteract muscle
wasting conditions and dual myostatin and dystrophin skipping has potential as a therapy
antisense oligonucleotides; Duchenne muscular dystrophy; dystrophin; exon skipping; myostatin
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.
2’-O-Methyl; anti-miR; delivery; Gymnosis; Locked Nucleic Acids; miR-122; miRNA; Peptide Nucleic Acids; phosphorothioate; transfection
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small RNAs that regulate gene expression and are implicated in wide-ranging cellular processes and pathological conditions including Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). We have compared differential miRNA expression in proximal and distal limb muscles, diaphragm, heart and serum in the mdx mouse relative to wild-type controls. Global transcriptome analysis revealed muscle-specific patterns of differential miRNA expression as well as a number of changes common between tissues, including previously identified dystromirs. In the case of miR-31 and miR-34c, upregulation of primary-miRNA transcripts, precursor hairpins and all mature miRNAs derived from the same transcript or miRNA cluster, strongly suggests transcriptional regulation of these miRNAs. The most striking differences in differential miRNA expression were between muscle tissue and serum. Specifically, miR-1, miR-133a, and miR-206 were highly abundant in mdx serum but downregulated or modestly upregulated in muscle, suggesting that these miRNAs are promising disease biomarkers. Indeed, the relative serum levels of these miRNAs were normalized in response to peptide-phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotide (PMO) mediated dystrophin restoration therapy. This study has revealed further complexity in the miRNA transcriptome of the mdx mouse, an understanding of which will be valuable in the development of novel therapeutics and for monitoring their efficacy.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy; mdx; microarray; microRNA
Antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) are currently the most promising therapeutic intervention for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). AOs modulate dystrophin pre-mRNA splicing, thereby specifically restoring the dystrophin reading frame and generating a truncated but semifunctional dystrophin protein. Challenges in the development of this approach are the relatively poor systemic AO delivery and inefficient dystrophin correction in affected non-skeletal muscle tissues, including the heart. We have previously reported impressive heart activity including high-splicing efficiency and dystrophin restoration following a single administration of an arginine-rich cell-penetrating peptide (CPPs) conjugated to a phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotide (PMO): Pip5e-PMO. However, the mechanisms underlying this activity are poorly understood. Here, we report studies involving single dose administration (12.5 mg/kg) of derivatives of Pip5e-PMO, consecutively assigned as Pip6-PMOs. These peptide-PMOs comprise alterations to the central hydrophobic core of the Pip5e peptide and illustrate that certain changes to the peptide sequence improves its activity; however, partial deletions within the hydrophobic core abolish its efficiency. Our data indicate that the hydrophobic core of the Pip sequences is critical for PMO delivery to the heart and that specific modifications to this region can enhance activity further. The results have implications for therapeutic PMO development for DMD.
antisense oligonucleotide; cardiac muscle; Duchenne muscular dystrophy; phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer; PMO internalizing peptide
antisense; cell delivery; oligonucleotide; peptide; siRNA
Induced splice modulation of pre-mRNAs shows promise to correct aberrant disease transcripts and restore functional protein and thus has therapeutic potential. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) results from mutations that disrupt the DMD gene open reading frame causing an absence of dystrophin protein. Antisense oligonucleotide (AO)-mediated exon skipping has been shown to restore functional dystrophin in mdx mice and DMD patients treated intramuscularly in two recent Phase I clinical trials. Critical to the therapeutic success of AO-based treatment will be the ability to deliver AOs systemically to all affected tissues including the heart. Here we report identification of a series of transduction peptides (Pip5) as AO conjugates for enhanced systemic and particularly cardiac delivery. One of the lead peptide-AO conjugates, Pip5e-AO, showed highly efficient exon skipping and dystrophin production in mdx mice with complete correction of the aberrant DMD transcript in heart, leading to greater than 50% of the normal level of dystrophin in heart. Mechanistic studies indicated that the enhanced activity of Pip5e-PMO is partly explained by more efficient nuclear delivery. Pip5 series derivatives therefore have significant potential for advancing the development of exon skipping therapies for DMD and may have application for enhanced cardiac delivery of other biotherapeutics.
Anti-miRs are oligonucleotide inhibitors complementary to miRNAs that have been used extensively as tools to gain understanding of specific miRNA functions and as potential therapeutics. We showed previously that peptide nucleic acid (PNA) anti-miRs containing a few attached Lys residues were potent miRNA inhibitors. Using miR-122 as an example, we report here the PNA sequence and attached amino acid requirements for efficient miRNA targeting and show that anti-miR activity is enhanced substantially by the presence of a terminal-free thiol group, such as a Cys residue, primarily due to better cellular uptake. We show that anti-miR activity of a Cys-containing PNA is achieved by cell uptake through both clathrin-dependent and independent routes. With the aid of two PNA analogues having intrinsic fluorescence, thiazole orange (TO)-PNA and [bis-o-(aminoethoxy)phenyl]pyrrolocytosine (BoPhpC)-PNA, we explored the subcellular localization of PNA anti-miRs and our data suggest that anti-miR targeting of miR-122 may take place in or associated with endosomal compartments. Our findings are valuable for further design of PNAs and other oligonucleotides as potent anti-miR agents.
Numerous human genetic diseases are caused by mutations that give rise to aberrant alternative splicing. Recently, several of these debilitating disorders have been shown to be amenable for splice-correcting oligonucleotides (SCOs) that modify splicing patterns and restore the phenotype in experimental models. However, translational approaches are required to transform SCOs into usable drug products. In this study, we present a new cell-penetrating peptide, PepFect14 (PF14), which efficiently delivers SCOs to different cell models including HeLa pLuc705 and mdx mouse myotubes; a cell culture model of Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy (DMD). Non-covalent PF14-SCO nanocomplexes induce splice-correction at rates higher than the commercially available lipid-based vector Lipofectamine™ 2000 (LF2000) and remain active in the presence of serum. Furthermore, we demonstrate the feasibility of incorporating this delivery system into solid formulations that could be suitable for several therapeutic applications. Solid dispersion technique is utilized and the formed solid formulations are as active as the freshly prepared nanocomplexes in solution even when stored at an elevated temperatures for several weeks. In contrast, LF2000 drastically loses activity after being subjected to same procedure. This shows that using PF14 is a very promising translational approach for the delivery of SCOs in different pharmaceutical forms.
Antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) have the capacity to alter the processing of pre-mRNA transcripts in order to correct the function of aberrant disease-related genes. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a fatal X-linked muscle degenerative disease that arises from mutations in the DMD gene leading to an absence of dystrophin protein. AOs have been shown to restore the expression of functional dystrophin via splice correction by intramuscular and systemic delivery in animal models of DMD and in DMD patients via intramuscular administration. Major challenges in developing this splice correction therapy are to optimise AO chemistry and to develop more effective systemic AO delivery. Peptide nucleic acid (PNA) AOs are an alternative AO chemistry with favourable in vivo biochemical properties and splice correcting abilities. Here we show long-term splice correction of the DMD gene in mdx mice following intramuscular PNA delivery and effective splice correction in aged mdx mice. Further, we report detailed optimisation of systemic PNA delivery dose regimens and PNA AO lengths to yield splice correction, with 25mer PNA AOs providing the greatest splice correcting efficacy, restoring dystrophin protein in multiple peripheral muscle groups. PNA AOs therefore provide an attractive candidate AO chemistry for DMD exon skipping therapy.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play an important role in diverse physiological processes and are potential therapeutic agents. Synthetic oligonucleotides (ONs) of different chemistries have proven successful for blocking miRNA expression. However, their specificity and efficiency have not been fully evaluated. Here, we show that peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) efficiently block a key inducible miRNA expressed in the haematopoietic system, miR-155, in cultured B cells as well as in mice. Remarkably, miR-155 inhibition by PNA in primary B cells was achieved in the absence of any transfection agent. In mice, the high efficiency of the treatment was demonstrated by a strong overlap in global gene expression between B cells isolated from anti-miR-155 PNA-treated and miR-155-deficient mice. Interestingly, PNA also induced additional changes in gene expression. Our analysis provides a useful platform to aid the design of efficient and specific anti-miRNA ONs for in vivo use.
Synthetic siRNA duplexes are used widely as reagents for silencing of mRNA targets in cells and are being developed for in vivo use. Serum stability is a major concern if siRNA is to be used for therapeutic delivery within blood circulation. We have developed the use of MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry as a rapid and convenient analytical tool to identify the most vulnerable sites within siRNA to serum degradation. Using this approach, we found that one siRNA duplex (Dh3) with UpA sequences close to one end was particularly vulnerable to rapid cleavage. This produced a fragment of mass consistent with the presence of a 2′,3′-cyclic phosphate that was slowly hydrolysed to a 2′-(3′-)phosphate on extended incubation. Substitution of these sites with 2′-O-methyl U residues prevented cleavage and confirmed that the major pathway for initial degradation is via cleavage by an RNAse A-like activity. Mass spectral analysis was used to follow the serum degradation of siRNA over more prolonged periods to show the accumulation of many fragments, almost all showing cleavage following pyrimidine nucleoside residues. Overall, the MALDI-TOF mass spectral analysis technique should prove useful for preliminary screening of the serum stability of siRNA duplexes and for identification of the most vulnerable cleavage sites.
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.
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.
Sequence-specific interference with the nuclear pre-mRNA splicing machinery has received increased attention as an analytical tool and for development of therapeutics. It requires sequence-specific and high affinity binding of RNaseH-incompetent DNA mimics to pre-mRNA. Peptide nucleic acids (PNA) or phosphoramidate morpholino oligonucleotides (PMO) are particularly suited as steric block oligonucleotides in this respect. However, splicing correction by PNA or PMO conjugated to cell penetrating peptides (CPP), such as Tat or Penetratin, has required high concentrations (5–10 μM) of such conjugates, unless an endosomolytic agent was added to increase escape from endocytic vesicles. We have focused on the modification of existing CPPs to search for peptides able to deliver more efficiently splice correcting PNA or PMO to the nucleus in the absence of endosomolytic agents. We describe here R6-Penetratin (in which arginine-residues were added to the N-terminus of Penetratin) as the most active of all CPPs tested so far in a splicing correction assay in which masking of a cryptic splice site allows expression of a luciferase reporter gene. Efficient and sequence-specific correction occurs at 1 μM concentration of the R6Pen–PNA705 conjugate as monitored by luciferase luminescence and by RT-PCR. Some aspects of the R6Pen–PNA705 structure–function relationship have also been evaluated.
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.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a process of post-transcriptional gene silencing initiated by double-stranded RNAs, including short interfering RNA (siRNA). Silencing is sequence-specific and RNAi has rapidly become central to the study of gene function. RNAi also carries promise for selective silencing of viral and endogenous genes causal for disease. To detect the very low levels of siRNA effective for RNAi we modified the 3′ end of the sense strand of siRNA with a nuclease-resistant DNA hairpin. We show that the modified siRNA-DNA construct (termed ‘crook’ siRNA) functions as a primer for the PCR and describe a novel, yet simple PCR protocol for its quantification (amolar levels/cell). When transfected into mammalian cells, crook siRNA induces selective mRNA knock-down equivalent to its unmodified siRNA counterpart. This new bifunctional siRNA construct will enable future in vivo studies on the uptake, distribution and pharmacokinetics of siRNA, and is particularly important for the development of siRNA-based therapeutics. More generally, PCR-based detection of siRNA carries wide-ranging applications for RNAi reverse genetics.
Oligonucleotides composed of 2′-O-methyl and locked nucleic acid residues complementary to HIV-1 trans-activation responsive element TAR block Tat-dependent trans-activation in a HeLa cell assay when delivered by cationic lipids. We describe an improved procedure for synthesis and purification under highly denaturing conditions of 5′-disulphide-linked conjugates of 3′-fluorescein labelled oligonucleotides with a range of cell-penetrating peptides and investigate their abilities to enter HeLa cells and block trans-activation. Free uptake of 12mer OMe/LNA oligonucleotide conjugates to Tat (48–58), Penetratin and R9F2 was observed in cytosolic compartments of HeLa cells. Uptake of the Tat conjugate was enhanced by N-terminal addition of four Lys or Arg residues or a second Tat peptide. None of the conjugates entered the nucleus or inhibited trans-activation when freely delivered, but inhibition was obtained in the presence of cationic lipids. Nuclear exclusion was seen for free delivery of Tat (48–58), Penetratin and R9 conjugates of 16mer phosphorothioate OMe oligonucleotide. Uptake into human fibroblast cytosolic compartments was seen for Tat, Penetratin, R9F2 and Transportan conjugates. Large enhancements of HeLa cell uptake into cytosolic compartments were seen when free Tat peptide was added to Tat conjugate of 12mer OMe/LNA oligonucleotide or Penetratin peptide to Penetratin conjugate of the same oligonucleotide.
We report the synthesis of a novel 2′-O-methyl (OMe) riboside phosphoramidite derivative of the G-clamp tricyclic base and incorporation into a series of small steric blocking OMe oligonucleotides targeting the apical stem–loop region of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) trans- activation-responsive (TAR) RNA. Binding to TAR RNA is substantially enhanced for certain single site substitutions in the centre of the oligonucleotide, and doubly substituted anti-TAR OMe 9mers or 12mers exhibit remarkably low binding constants of <0.1 nM. G-clamp-containing oligomers achieved 50% inhibition of Tat-dependent in vitro transcription at ∼25 nM, 4-fold lower than for a TAR 12mer OMe oligonucleotide and better than found for any other oligonucleotide tested to date. Addition of one or two OMe G-clamps did not impart cellular trans-activation inhibition activity to cellularly inactive OMe oligonucleotides. Addition of an OMe G-clamp to a 12mer OMe–locked nucleic acid chimera maintained, but did not enhance, inhibition of Tat-dependent in vitro transcription and cellular trans-activation in HeLa cells. The results demonstrate clearly that an OMe G-clamp has remarkable RNA-binding enhancement ability, but that oligonucleotide effectiveness in steric block inhibition of Tat-dependent trans-activation both in vitro and in cells is governed by factors more complex than RNA-binding strength alone.
A new kieselguhr-polydimethylacrylamide support has been used in a continuous flow, column system for solid phase synthesis of oligodeoxyribonucleotides by a phosphotriester procedure. Using only protected mononucleotides a 14-mer, 20-mer and 27-mer were assembled in high repetitive yield using a simple manually operated, bench top apparatus.