Cellular delivery of hammerhead ribozymes
Site-specific chemical modification of hammerhead ribozymes was evaluated as a means of enhancing biological stability. Chimeric, 2'-O-methylated ribozymes, containing only five unmodified ribonucleotides, were catalytically active in vitro (kcat = 1.46 min-1) and were significantly more stable in serum and lysosomal enzymes than unmodified (all-RNA) counterparts. Furthermore, they remained undegraded in cell-containing media for up to 8 hours. Stability enhancement allowed cellular uptake properties of radiolabelled ribozymes to be assessed following exogenous delivery. Studies in vulval and glial cell lines indicated that chimeric ribozymes became cell-associated via an inefficient process, which was energy and concentration dependant. A considerable proportion of ribozymes remained bound to cell-surface components, however, a small proportion (<1%) were internalised via mechanisms of adsorptive and / or receptor mediated endocytosis. Fluorescent microscopy indicated that ribozymes were localised within endosomal / lysosomal vesicles following cell entry. This was confirmed by immuno-electron microscopy, which allowed the detection of biotin-labelled ribozymes within the cell ultrastructure. Despite the predominant localisation within endocytic vesicles, a small proportion of internalised ribozymes appeared able to exit these compartments and penetrate target sites within the nucleus and cytoplasm. The ribozymes designed in this report were directed against the epidermal growth factor receptor mRNA, which is over-expressed in a malignant brain disease called glioblastoma multiforme. In order to examine the fate of ribozymes in the brain, the distribution of FITC-labelled ribozymes was examined following intra-cerebro ventricular injection to mice. FITC-ribozymes demonstrated high punctate pattern of distribution within the striatum and cortex, which appeared to represent localisation within cell bodies and dendritic processes. This suggested that delivery to glial cells in vivo may be possible. Finally, strategies were investigated to enhance the cellular delivery of ribozymes.