Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) are nonionic DNA/RNA mimics that can recognize complementary sequences by Watson-Crick base pairing. The neutral PNA backbone facilitates the recognition of duplex DNA by strand invasion, suggesting that antigene PNAs (agPNAs) can be important tools for exploring the structure and function of chromosomal DNA inside cells. However, before agPNAs can enter wide use, it will be necessary to develop straightforward strategies for introducing them into cells. Here, we demonstrate that agPNA-peptide conjugates can target promoter DNA and block progesterone receptor (PR) gene expression inside cells. Thirty-six agPNA-peptide conjugates were synthesized and tested. We observed inhibition of gene expression using cationic peptides containing either arginine or lysine residues, with eight or more cationic amino acids being preferred. Both 13 and 19 base agPNA-peptide conjugates were inhibitory. Inhibition was observed in human cancer cell lines expressing either high or low levels of progesterone receptor. Modification of agPNA-peptide conjugates with hydrophobic amino acids or small molecule hydrophobic moieties yielded improved potency. Inhibition by agPNAs did not require cationic lipid or any other additive, but adding agents to cell growth media that promote endosomal release caused modest increases in agPNA potency. These data demonstrate that chromosomal DNA is accessible to agPNA-peptide conjugates and that chemical modifications can improve potency.
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