Cell-penetrating peptides; chemical modification, mechanism of uptake and formulation development
Gene therapy holds the promise of revolutionizing the way we treat diseases. By using recombinant DNA and oligonucleotides (ONs), gene functions can be restored, altered or silenced according to the therapeutic need. However, gene therapy approaches require the delivery of large and charged nucleic-acid based molecules to their intracellular targets across the plasma membrane, which is inherently impermeable to such molecules. In this thesis, two chemically modified cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) that have superior delivery properties for several nucleic acid-based therapeutics are developed. These CPPs can spontaneously form nanoparticles upon non-covalent complexation with the nucleic acid cargo, and the formed nanoparticles mediate efficient cellular transfection. In paper I, we show that an N-terminally stearic acid-modified version of transportan-10 (PF3) can efficiently transfect different cell types with plasmid DNA and mediates efficient gene delivery in-vivo when administrated intra muscularly (i.m.) or intradermaly (i.d.). In paper II, a new peptide with ornithine modification, PF14, is shown to efficiently deliver splice-switching oligonucleotides (SSOs) in different cell models including mdx mouse myotubes; a cell culture model of Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy (DMD). Additionally, we describe a method for incorporating the PF14-SSO nanoparticles into a solid formulation that is active and stable even when stored at elevated temperatures for several weeks. In paper III, we demonstrate the involvement of class-A scavenger receptor subtypes (SCARA3 & SCARA5) in the uptake of PF14-SSO nanoparticles, which possess negative surface charge, and suggest for the first time that some CPP-based systems function through scavenger receptors. In paper IV, the ability of PF14 to deliver small interfering RNA (siRNA) to different cell lines is shown and their stability in simulated gastric acidic conditions is highlighted. Taken together, these results demonstrate that certain chemical modifications can drastically enhance the activity and stability of CPPs for delivering nucleic acids after spontaneous nanoparticle formation upon non-covalent complexation. Moreover, we show that CPP-based nanoparticles can be formulated into convenient and stable solid formulations that can be suitable for several therapeutic applications. Importantly, the involvement of scavenger receptors in the uptake of such nanoparticles is presented in this thesis, which could yield novel possibilities to understand and improve the transfection by CPPs and other gene therapy nanoparticles.