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Antisense Nucleic Acid Drug Dev. 2002 Apr;12(2):51-63.

Cell-dependent differential cellular uptake of PNA, peptides, and PNA-peptide conjugates.

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  • 1Center for Biomolecular Recognition, Department of Medical Biochemistry & Genetics, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


Peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligomers were conjugated to cell-penetrating peptides: pAnt, a 17-residue fragment of the Drosophila protein Antennapedia, and pTat, a 14-amino acid fragment of HIV protein Tat. A 14-mer PNA was attached to the peptide by disulfide linkage or by maleimide coupling. The uptake of (directly or indirectly, via biotin) fluorescein-labeled peptides, PNAs, or PNA-peptide conjugates was studied by fluorescence microscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy, and fluorometry in five cell types. In SK-BR-3, HeLa, and IMR-90 cells, the PNA-peptide conjugates and a T1, backbone-modified PNA were readily taken up (2 microM). The PNA was almost exclusively confined to vesicular compartments in the cytosol. However, the IMR-90 cells also showed a weak diffuse staining of the cytoplasm. In the U937 cells, we observed a very weak and exclusively vesicular staining with the PNA-peptide conjugates and the T(lys)-modified PNA. No evident uptake of the unmodified PNA was seen. In H9 cells, both peptides and the PNA-peptide conjugates quickly associated with the membrane, followed by a weak intracellular staining. A cytotoxic effect resulting in artificial staining of the cells was observed with fluoresceinated peptides and PNA-peptide conjugates at concentrations above 5-10 microM, depending on cell type and incubation time. We conclude that uptake of PNAs in many cell types can be achieved either by conjugating to certain peptides or simply by charging the PNA backbone using lysine PNA units. The uptake is time, temperature, and concentration dependent and mainly endocytotic. Our results also show that proper controls for cytotoxicity should always be carried out to avoid misinterpretation of visual data.

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