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Bioconjug Chem. 2007 Jan-Feb;18(1):50-60.

Stability of cell-penetrating peptide-morpholino oligomer conjugates in human serum and in cells.

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  • 1AVI BioPharma, Incorporated, 4575 SW Research Way, Corvallis, Oregon 97333, USA.


Cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) have been shown to enhance the cellular uptake of antisense oligonucleotides (AOs). However, the effectiveness of the CPPs for cytoplasmic or nuclear delivery of therapeutic AOs must take into account the possible entrapment of the CPP-AO conjugates in endosomes/lysosomes and the overall stability of the CPP-AO conjugates to enzymes. This includes the stabilities of the CPPs and AOs themselves as well as the linkage between them. In this study, we investigated the effects of several structural features of arginine-rich CPPs on the metabolic stability of CPP conjugated to phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMOs) in human serum and in cells. Those structural features include amino acid configurations (d or l), incorporation of non-alpha-amino acids, peptide sequences, and types of linkages between CPPs and PMOs. Using matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry, we found that the stability of the CPP portion was varied although the PMO portion of the conjugate was completely stable both in cells and in human serum. d-Configuration CPPs were completely stable, while l-CPPs were degraded in both serum and HeLa cells. Insertions of 6-aminohexanoic acid residues (X) into an R8 peptide increased the corresponding CPP's serum stability with the degree of stability being dependent upon the positions of X. However, X-containing CPPs were degraded rapidly intracellularly. Insertions of beta-alanines (B) into the R8 peptide increased its serum stability and intracellular stability. An amide or a maleimide linkage was stable in both serum and cells; however, an unhindered disulfide linkage was not stable in either. By using fluorescent microscopy, flow cytometry, and an antisense splice correction assay, the cellular uptakes of an X-containing conjugate and its fragments were compared to their antisense activities. We found that a large fraction of the conjugate was trapped within vesicles and the degraded fragments cannot escape from the vesicles. This study indicates that the incorporation of non-alpha-amino acids into l-CPPs can increase the metabolic stability of CPP-PMOs without using costly d-CPPs. However, the position and type of non-alpha-amino acids affect the degree of stability extracellularly and intracellularly. In addition, this study reveals that the degradation of an X-containing CPP-PMO conjugate is a more rapid process than degradation of a B-containing conjugate. Last, the endosomal/lysosomal trapping limits the effectiveness of a CPP-PMO conjugate, and the stability of the CPP is one of the factors affecting the ability of the conjugate to escape the endosomes/lysosomes.

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