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Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) have the potential to revolutionize medicine due to their ability to manipulate gene function for therapeutic purposes. ASOs are chemically modified and/or incorporated within nanoparticles to enhance their stability and cellular uptake, however, a major challenge is the poor understanding of their uptake mechanisms, which would facilitate improved ASO designs with enhanced activity and reduced toxicity. Here, we study the uptake mechanism of three therapeutically relevant ASOs (peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino (PPMO), 2'Omethyl phosphorothioate (2'OMe), and phosphorothioated tricyclo DNA (tcDNA) that have been optimized to induce exon skipping in models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). We show that PPMO and tcDNA have high propensity to spontaneously self-assemble into nanoparticles. PPMO forms micelles of defined size and their net charge (zeta potential) is dependent on the medium and concentration. In biomimetic conditions and at low concentrations, PPMO obtains net negative charge and its uptake is mediated by class A scavenger receptor subtypes (SCARAs) as shown by competitive inhibition and RNAi silencing experiments in vitro. In vivo, the activity of PPMO was significantly decreased in SCARA1 knockout mice compared to wild-type animals. Additionally, we show that SCARA1 is involved in the uptake of tcDNA and 2'OMe as shown by competitive inhibition and colocalization experiments. Surface plasmon resonance binding analysis to SCARA1 demonstrated that PPMO and tcDNA have higher binding profiles to the receptor compared to 2'OMe. These results demonstrate receptor-mediated uptake for a range of therapeutic ASO chemistries, a mechanism that is dependent on their self-assembly into nanoparticles.

Original publication




Journal article


Nano Lett

Publication Date





4364 - 4373


Antisense oligonucleotides, delivery, nanoparticles, scavenger receptors, self-assembly, uptake mechanism, Animals, Base Sequence, Cell Line, Exons, Genetic Therapy, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Micelles, Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne, Nanoparticles, Oligonucleotides, Antisense, Scavenger Receptors, Class A