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Heissig, Philipp; Schrimpf, Waldemar; Hadwiger, Philipp; Wagner, Ernst; Lamb, Don C. (2017): Monitoring integrity and localization of modified single-stranded RNA oligonucleotides using ultrasensitive fluorescence methods.
In: PLOS One 12(3), e0173401


Short single-stranded oligonucleotides represent a class of promising therapeutics with diverse application areas. Antisense oligonucleotides, for example, can interfere with various processes involved in mRNA processing through complementary base pairing. Also RNA interference can be regulated by antagomirs, single-stranded siRNA and single-stranded microRNA mimics. The increased susceptibility to nucleolytic degradation of unpaired RNAs can be counteracted by chemical modification of the sugar phosphate backbone. In order to understand the dynamics of such single-stranded RNAs, we investigated their fate after exposure to cellular environment by several fluorescence spectroscopy techniques. First, we elucidated the degradation of four differently modified, dual-dye labeled short RNA oligonucleotides in HeLa cell extracts by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, fluorescence cross-correlation spectroscopy and Forster resonance energy transfer. We observed that the integrity of the oligonucleotide sequence correlates with the extent of chemical modifications. Furthermore, the data showed that nucleolytic degradation can only be distinguished from unspecific effects like aggregation, association with cellular proteins, or intramolecular dynamics when considering multiple measurement and analysis approaches. We also investigated the localization and integrity of the four modified oligonucleotides in cultured HeLa cells using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy. No intracellular accumulation could be observed for unmodified oligonucleotides, while completely stabilized oligonucleotides showed strong accumulation within HeLa cells with no changes in fluorescence lifetime over 24 h. The integrity and accumulation of partly modified oligonucleotides was in accordance with their extent of modification. In highly fluorescent cells, the oligonucleotides were transported to the nucleus. The lifetime of the RNA in the cells could be explained by a balance between release of the oligonucleotides from endosomes, degradation by RNases and subsequent depletion from the cells.