A mechanistic study on the cellular uptake, intracellular trafficking, and antisense gene regulation of bottlebrush polymer-conjugated oligonucleotides.

RSC chemical biology(2023)

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We have developed a non-cationic transfection vector in the form of bottlebrush polymer-antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) conjugates. Termed pacDNA (polymer-assisted compaction of DNA), these agents show improved biopharmaceutical characteristics and antisense potency while suppressing non-antisense side effects. Nonetheless, there still is a lack of the mechanistic understanding of the cellular uptake, subcellular trafficking, and gene knockdown with pacDNA. Here, we show that the pacDNA enters human non-small cell lung cancer cells (NCI-H358) predominantly by scavenger receptor-mediated endocytosis and macropinocytosis and trafficks the endolysosomal pathway within the cell. The pacDNA significantly reduces a target gene expression (KRAS) in the protein level but not in the mRNA level, despite that the transfection of certain free ASOs causes ribonuclease H1 (RNase H)-dependent degradation of KRAS mRNA. In addition, the antisense activity of pacDNA is independent of ASO chemical modification, suggesting that the pacDNA always functions as a steric blocker.
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