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  • Elucidating cell-penetrating peptide mechanisms of action for membrane interaction, cellular uptake, and translocation utilizing the hydrophobic counter-anion pyrenebutyrate.

    12 December 2017

    Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are membrane permeable vectors recognized for their intrinsic ability to gain access to the cell interior. The hydrophobic counter-anion, pyrenebutyrate, enhances cellular uptake of oligoarginine CPPs. To elucidate CPP uptake mechanisms, the effect of pyrenebutyrate on well-recognized CPPs with varying hydrophobicity and arginine content is investigated. The cellular CPP uptake and CPP-mediated oligonucleotide delivery is analyzed by fluorescence activated cell sorting, confocal microscopy, and a cell-based splice-switching assay. The splice-switching oligonucleotide is a mixmer of 2'-O-methyl RNA and locked nucleic acids delivered as a non-covalent complex with 10-fold molar CPP excess. CPP-induced membrane perturbation on large unilamellar vesicles is investigated in calcein release experiments. We observed that pyrenebutyrate facilitates cellular uptake and translocation of oligonucleotide mediated by oligoarginine nonamer while limited effect of pyrenebutyrate on more hydrophobic CPPs was observed. By combining the different experimental results we conclude that the pathway for cellular uptake of oligoarginine is dominated by direct membrane translocation, whereas the pathway for oligoarginine-mediated oligonucleotide translocation is dominated by endocytosis. Both mechanisms are promoted by pyrenebutyrate and we suggest that pyrenebutyrate has different sites of action for the two uptake and translocation mechanisms.

  • Distinct uptake routes of cell-penetrating peptide conjugates.

    12 December 2017

    Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are a growing family of peptides that have opened a new avenue in drug delivery, allowing various hydrophilic macromolecules to enter cells. In accordance with most other cationic delivery vectors, CPPs seem to rely mostly on endocytosis for internalization. However, due to conflicting results the exact endocytic pathways for CPP uptake have not yet been resolved. Here, we evaluated the ability of seven CPPs, with different chemical properties, to convey peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) inside cells. Assays based on both splice correction, generating biologically active read-out, and on traditional fluorescence measurements were utilized. The same assays were employed to assess different endocytic pathways and the dependence on extracellular heparan sulfates for internalization. Both highly cationic CPPs (M918, penetratin, and Tat) and amphipathic peptides (transportan, TP10, MAP, and pVEC) were investigated in this study. Conjugate uptake relied on endocytosis for all seven peptides but splice-correcting activity varied greatly for the investigated CPPs. The exact endocytic internalization routes were evaluated through the use of well-known endocytosis inhibitors and tracers. In summary, the different chemical properties of CPPs have little correlation with their ability to efficiently deliver splice-correcting PNA. However, conjugates of polycationic and amphipathic peptides appear to utilize different internalization routes.

  • Non-viral nanovectors for gene delivery: factors that govern successful therapeutics.

    12 December 2017

    IMPORTANCE OF THE FIELD: Gene therapy is regarded as one of the most promising therapeutic approaches, as it has the potential to treat disorders by correcting malformations at the nucleic acids. AREAS COVERED IN THIS REVIEW: Some of the most recent developments in the process of plasmid DNA vector design and formulation are reviewed with a special focus on: different formulations of nanovectors and a summary of successful cases reported; requirements for systemic administration; and functionalization of the nanocarriers by use of targeting entities. WHAT THE READER WILL GAIN: An understanding of the different physiological barriers and a comprehensive review of the recent strategies used to overcome these obstacles. Particular attention is given to formulations for intravenous administration, colloidal stability properties and different targeting entities used. TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Overall, vector formulation must take into account the administration route and inherent physiological barriers. Critical parameters for the success of pDNA nanovectors are: particles size, colloidal stability of the formulation and interaction between the carrier and plasmid DNA. Highly relevant is the fact that this interaction should be balanced to offer protection to degradation as well as allow dissociation of the therapeutic nucleic acid for obtaining maximal activity.

  • Scavenger receptor-mediated uptake of cell-penetrating peptide nanocomplexes with oligonucleotides.

    12 December 2017

    Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are short cationic peptides that penetrate cells by interacting with the negatively charged plasma membrane; however, the detailed uptake mechanism is not clear. In contrary to the conventional mode of action of CPPs, we show here that a CPP, PepFect14 (PF14), forms negatively charged nanocomplexes with oligonucleotides and their uptake is mediated by class-A scavenger receptors (SCARAs). Specific inhibitory ligands of SCARAs, such as fucoidin, polyinosinic acid, and dextran sulfate, totally inhibit the activity of PF14-oligonucleotide nanocomplexes in the HeLa pLuc705 splice-correction cell model, while nonspecific, chemically related molecules do not. Furthermore, RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown of SCARA subtypes (SCARA3 and SCARA5) that are expressed in this cell line led to a significant reduction of the activity to <50%. In line with this, immunostaining shows prevalent colocalization of the nanocomplexes with the receptors, and electron microscopy images show no binding or internalization of the nanocomplexes in the presence of the inhibitory ligands. Interestingly, naked oligonucleotides also colocalize with SCARAs when used at high concentrations. These results demonstrate the involvement of SCARA3 and SCARA5 in the uptake of PF14-oligonucleotide nanocomplexes and suggest for the first time that some CPP-based systems function through scavenger receptors, which could yield novel possibilities to understand and improve the transfection by CPPs.

  • Optimizing anti-gene oligonucleotide 'Zorro-LNA' for improved strand invasion into duplex DNA.

    12 December 2017

    Zorro-LNA (Zorro) is a newly developed, oligonucleotide (ON)-based, Z-shaped construct with the potential of specific binding to each strand of duplex DNA. The first-generation Zorros are formed by two hybridized LNA/DNA mixmers (2-ON Zorros) and was hypothesized to strand invade. We have now established a method, which conclusively demonstrates that an LNA ON can strand invade into duplex DNA. To make Zorros smaller in size and easier to design, we synthesized 3'-5'-5'-3' single-stranded Zorro-LNA (ssZorro) by using both 3'- and 5'-phosphoramidites. With ssZorro, a significantly greater extent and rate of double-strand invasion (DSI) was obtained than with conventional 2-ON Zorros. Introducing hydrophilic PEG-linkers connecting the two strands did not significantly change the rate or extent of DSI as compared to ssZorro with a nucleotide-based linker, while the longest alkyl-chain linker tested (36 carbons) resulted in a very slow DSI. The shortest alkyl-chain linker (3 carbons) did not reduce the extent of DSI of ssZorro, but significantly decreased the DSI rate. Collectively, ssZorro is smaller in size, easier to design and more efficient than conventional 2-ON Zorro in inducing DSI. Analysis of the chemical composition of the linker suggests that it could be of importance for future therapeutic considerations.

  • Characterization of a novel cytotoxic cell-penetrating peptide derived from p14ARF protein.

    14 December 2017

    The tumor suppressor p14ARF is widely deregulated in many types of cancers and is believed to function as a failsafe mechanism, inhibiting proliferation and inducing apoptosis as cellular response to a high oncogene load. We have found that a 22-amino-acid-long peptide derived from the N-terminal part of p14ARF, denoted ARF(1-22), which has previously been shown to mimic the function of p14ARF, has cell-penetrating properties. This peptide is internalized to the same extent as the cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) TP10 and dose-dependently decreases proliferation in MCF-7 and MDA MB 231 cells. Uptake of the ARF(1-22) peptide is associated with low membrane disturbance, measured by deoxyglucose and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) leakage, as compared to its scrambled peptide. Also, flow cytometric analysis of annexin V/propidium iodide (PI) binding and Hoechst staining of nuclei suggest that ARF(1-22) induces apoptosis, whereas scrambled or inverted peptide sequences have no effect. The ARF(1-22) peptide mainly translocates cells through endocytosis, and is found intact inside cells for at least 3 hours. To our knowledge, this is the first time a CPP having pro-apoptopic activity has been designed from a protein.

  • Insights into the cellular trafficking of splice redirecting oligonucleotides complexed with chemically modified cell-penetrating peptides.

    12 December 2017

    Conjugates of cell-penetrating peptides (CPP) and splice redirecting oligonucleotides (ON) display clinical potential as attested by in vivo experimentation in murine models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. However, micromolar concentrations of these conjugates are required to obtain biologically relevant responses as a consequence of extensive endosomal sequestration following endocytosis. Recent work from our group has demonstrated that appending stearic acid to CPPs increases their efficiency and that the inclusion of pH titrable entities leads to further improvement. Moreover, these modified CPPs form non covalent complexes with charged ON analogs or siRNAs, which allows decreasing the concentrations of ONs by nearly one log. These modified CPPs and the parent peptides have been compared here in the same in vitro model in terms of cell uptake, trafficking and splicing redirection activity. The increased splicing redirection activity of our modified CPPs cannot be explained by differences in cell uptake but rather by their enhanced ability to escape from endocytic vesicles. Accordingly, a clear correlation between membrane destabilizing activity and splicing redirection was observed using a liposome leakage assay. Studies of cellular trafficking for the most active PF6:ON complexes indicate uptake by clathrin-mediated endocytosis using either FACS cell uptake or a splicing redirection functional assay. Acidification of intracellular vesicles and membrane potential were found important for splicing redirection but not for cell uptake. These results do confirm that the increased potency of PF6:ON complexes is not due to the use of a non endocytic route of cell internalization as proposed for some CPPs.

  • A stearylated CPP for delivery of splice correcting oligonucleotides using a non-covalent co-incubation strategy.

    15 December 2017

    Aberrations in splicing patterns play a significant role in several diseases, and splice correction, together with other forms of gene regulation, is consequently an emerging therapeutic target. In order to achieve successful oligonucleotide transfection, efficient delivery vectors are generally necessary. In this study we present one such vector, the chemically modified cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) TP10, for efficient delivery of a splice-correcting 2'-OMe RNA oligonucleotide. Utilizing a functional splice correction assay, we assessed the transfection efficiency of non-covalent complexes of oligonucleotides and stearylated or cysteamidated CPPs. Stearylation of the CPPs Arg9 and penetratin, as well as cysteamidation of MPG and TP10, did not improve transfection, whereas the presence of an N-terminal stearyl group on TP10 improved delivery efficiency remarkably compared to the unmodified peptide. The splice correction levels observed with stearyl-TP10 are in fact in parity with the effects seen with the commercially available transfection agent Lipofectamine 2000. However, the inherent toxicity associated with cationic lipid-based transfections can be completely eliminated when using the stearylated TP10, making this vector highly promising for non-covalent delivery of negatively charged oligonucleotides.

  • Splice-switching efficiency and specificity for oligonucleotides with locked nucleic acid monomers.

    12 December 2017

    The use of antisense oligonucleotides to modulate splicing patterns has gained increasing attention as a therapeutic platform and, hence, the mechanisms of splice-switching oligonucleotides are of interest. Cells expressing luciferase pre-mRNA interrupted by an aberrantly spliced beta-globin intron, HeLa pLuc705, were used to monitor the splice-switching activity of modified oligonucleotides by detection of the expression of functional luciferase. It was observed that phosphorothioate 2'-O-methyl RNA oligonucleotides containing locked nucleic acid monomers provide outstanding splice-switching activity. However, similar oligonucleotides with several mismatches do not impede splice-switching activity which indicates a risk for off-target effects. The splice-switching activity is abolished when mismatches are introduced at several positions with locked nucleic acid monomers suggesting that it is the locked nucleic acid monomers that give rise to low mismatch discrimination to target pre-mRNA. The results highlight the importance of rational sequence design to allow for high efficiency with simultaneous high mismatch discrimination for splice-switching oligonucleotides and suggest that splice-switching activity is tunable by utilizing locked nucleic acid monomers.

  • Is speciation accompanied by rapid evolution? Insights from comparing reproductive and nonreproductive transcriptomes in Drosophila.

    12 December 2017

    The tempo and mode of evolutionary change during speciation have remained contentious until recently. While much of the evidence claiming speciation is an abrupt and rapid process comes from fossil data, recent molecular phylogenetics show that the background of gradual evolution is often broken by accelerated rates of molecular evolution during speciation. However, what kinds of genes affect or are affected by speciation remains unexplored. Our analysis of 4843 protein-coding genes in five species of the Drosophila melanogaster subgroup shows that while ~70% of genes follow clock-like evolution, between 17-19.67% of loci show signatures of accelerated rates of evolution in recently formed species. These genes show 2-3-fold higher rates of substitution in recently diverged species compared to older species. This fraction of loci affects a diverse range of functions. Only a small proportion of reproductive genes experience speciation-related accelerated changes but many sex-and -reproduction related genes show an interesting pattern of persistent rapid evolution suggesting that sex-and-reproduction related genes are under constant selective pressures. The identification of loci associated with accelerated evolution allows us to address the mechanisms of rapid evolution and speciation, which in our study appears to be a combination of both selection and rapid demographical changes.