Cellular delivery of hammerhead ribozymes

  • Andrew J. Hudson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Hammerhead ribozymes are potent RNA molecules which have the potential to
specifically inhibit gene expression by catalysing the trans-cleavage of mRNAs.
However, they are unstable in biological fluids and cellular delivery poses a problem. 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. Conjugation of ribozymes to anti~transferrin receptor antibodies improved cellular uptake 3-fold as a result of a specific interaction with transferrin receptors. Complexation with cationic liposomes also significantly improved cell association, however, some toxiclty was observed and this could be a limitation to their use. Overall, it would appear that hammerhead ribozymes can be chemically stabilised to allow direct exogenous administration in vivo. However, additional delivery strategies are probably required to improve cellular uptake, and thus, allow ribozymes to achieve their full potential as pharmaceutical agents.
KEYWORDS: Catalytic

Date of AwardSept 1997
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSaghir Akhtar (Supervisor) & Bill Irwin (Supervisor)


  • catalytic RNA
  • hammerhead
  • stability
  • uptake
  • cellular delivery

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