A series of 18-mer peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) targeted against micro-RNA miR-210 was synthesised and tested in a cellular system. Unmodified PNAs, R8-conjugated PNAs and modified PNAs c ontaining eight arginine residues on the backbone, either as C2-modified (R) or C5-modified (S) monomers, all with the same sequence, were compared. Two different models were used for the modified PNAs: one with alternated chiral and achiral monomers and one with a stretch of chiral monomers at the N terminus. The melting temperatures of these derivatives were found to be extremely high and 5m urea was used to assess differences between the different structures. FACS analysis and qRT-PCR on K562 chronic myelogenous leukaemic cells indicated that arginine-conjugated and backbonemodified PNAs display good cellular uptake, with best performances for the C2-modified series. Resistance to enzymatic degradation was found to be higher for the backbone-modified PNAs, thus enhancing the advantage of using these derivatives rather than conjugated PNAs in the cells in serum, and this effect is magnified in the presence of peptidases such as trypsin. Inhibition of miR-210 activity led to changes in the erythroid differentiation pathway, which were more evident in mithramycin-treated cells. Interestingly, the anti-miR activities differed with use of different PNAs, thus suggesting a role of the substituents not only in the cellular uptake, but also in the mechanism of miR recognition and inactivation. This is the first report relating to the use of backbone-modified PNAs as antimiR agents. The results clearly indicate that backbone-modified PNAs are good candidates for the development of very efficient drugs based on anti-miR activity, due to their enhanced bioavailabilities, and that overall anti-miR performance is a combination of cellular uptake and RNA binding.
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