Impact of different cell penetrating peptides on the efficacy...
Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript. Impact of different cell penetrating peptides on the efficacy of antisense therapeutics for targeting intracellular pathogens AbstractThere is a pressing need for novel and innovative therapeutic strategies to address infections caused by intracellular pathogens. Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) present a novel method to target intracellular pathogens due to their unique mechanism of action and their ability to be conjugated to cell penetrating peptides (CPP) to overcome challenging delivery barriers. In this study, we targeted the RNA polymerase 伪 subunit (rpoA) using a PNA that was covalently conjugated to five different CPPs. Changing the conjugated CPP resulted in a pronounced improvement in the antibacterial activity observed against Listeria monocytogenes in vitro, in cell culture and in a Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) infection model. Additionally, a time-kill assay revealed three conjugated CPPs rapidly kill Listeria within 20鈥塵inutes without disrupting the bacterial cell membrane. Moreover, rpoA gene silencing resulted in suppression of its message as well as reduced expression of other critical virulence genes (Listeriolysin O and two phospholipases plcA and plcB) in a concentration-dependent manner. Furthermore, PNA-inhibition of bacterial protein synthesis was selective and did not adversely affect mitochondrial protein synthesis. This study provides a foundation for improving and developing PNAs conjugated to CPPs to better target intracellular pathogens. IntroductionBacterial infections caused by multidrug-resistant pathogens are a daunting public health challenge that requires serious attention. For almost 80 years, antibiotics and their synthetic analogues have been the gold standard for treatment of these infections. However, the diminishing utility of current antibiotics in the face of rising bacterial resistance and the stagnant development of new antibiotics further underscores the urgent need for the development of alternative therapeutic options1. This scourge is further compounded by intracellular bacterial pathogens, such as Mycobacterium, Salmonella, Listeria, and Brucella that reside and thrive inside mammalian cells2,3,4. Treatment of infections caused by these intracellular pathogens is very challenging because most antibiotics are unable to access intracellular replicative niches and achieve the optimum therapeutic concentrations within the infected cells3,4,5. These challenges have sparked efforts to target intracellular bacteria utilizing different approaches2,3,4,5,6,7,8. One potential novel alternative therapeutic approach to treat infections caused by intracellular pathogens that has shown promise in recent years is silencing essential genes with a peptide nucleic acid (PNA)6,7,8,9. In addition to the hybridization affinity to their target DNA and RNA sequence and specificity of PNA molecules to silence genes, these molecules are characterized by chemical and enzymatic stability conferred by their pseudopeptide backbone as well as low toxicity to host tissues10. However one significant limitation of these hydrophilic macromolecules is that their cellular uptake is controlled by the high selectivity imposed by cellular membranes11,12; this constitutes a major challenge for the successful utilization of PNA gene inhibition therapeutics to target intracellular pathogens13. Additionally, effective delivery of such large molecules across stringent bacterial cell walls can be a daunting task. Therefore, there is a need for an appropriate carrier system to deliver PNAs specifically to intracellular replicative niches and eliminate resident pathogen(s) effectively. Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs), consisting of positively charged residues, have emerged as extremely efficient and crucial allies to PNAs and a wide range of cell-membrane impermeable cargos. These agents help molecules, such as PNAs, overcome challenging delivery barriers to permit their entry into infected cells14.In this study, we investigated the effect of five different CPPs conjugated to PNAs that target the essential RNA polymerase 伪-subunit (encoded by rpoA gene) in the intracellular pathogen Listeria monocytogenes. We investigated the antibacterial activity of the PNAs, as well as their spectrum of activity against various clinical isolates of Listeria in vitro, in infected cell culture and in a Listeria-infected Caenorhabditis elegans model. We also studied the effect of silencing the rpoA gene and its impact on expression of Listeria virulence genes and evaluated the effect of PNAs on mitochondrial biogenesis. This study provides valuable insights into potential therapeutic applications of PNAs (conjugated to CPPs) for use as antimicrobial agents for the treatment of intracellular infections.ResultsAmplification and sequencing of rpoA 5鈥?terminal regionBacterial strains included in this study are described in Table S1. We confirmed, via genomic sequencing, that the rpoA 5鈥?terminal region including the ribosomal binding site and the start ATG codon is conserved among Listeria clinical isolates (Tables S2 and S3). Using a complementary antisense PNA to the identified region within the rpoA gene, five different cell penetrating peptides were conjugated to the PNA (Table 1). These antisense constructs were subsequently tested in vitro and in vivo to confirm they were capable of inhibiting the rpoA gene and eradicate an infection caused by the intracellular pathogen L. monocytogenes.Table 1 Cell penetrating peptides and antisense constructs used in this study.Full size tableMinimum inhibitory concentration (MIC)We explored the MICs of the five antisense constructs against clinical isolates of L. monocytogenes as presented in Table 2. All designed PNAs demonstrated bactericidal activity against Listeria except PKFF which worked as bacteriostatic. As shown in Table 2 the most effective PNA was PRXR followed by PTAT and PRFR. The MIC50 of PRXR was found to be 1鈥壩糓 and the MIC50 of PTAT and PRFR was found to be 2鈥壩糓 and 4鈥壩糓, respectively. PANT and PKFF were less effective inhibiting bacterial growth with MIC50 of 32鈥壩糓. Neither the free PNA nor the free CPPs possessed antimicrobial activity up to 32鈥壩糓. KFF and ANT CPP showed antimicrobial activity with MIC50 of 64鈥壩糓.Table 2 MICs and MIC50 of CPPs and PNAs against clinical isolates of L. monocytogenes.Full size tableBacterial reductionAfter confirming the MIC for each PNA construct, concentration-dependent bacterial reduction was determined against L. monocytogenes F4244. Table S4 presents the average number of viable bacteria present after treatment and the corresponding log reduction associated with each PNA (relative to the control). As expected, PRXR (1鈥壩糓) produced the greatest reduction (Log10 2.51) in bacterial count followed by PTAT with bacterial reduction of (Log10 1.1) at the same concentration. Both PNAs cleared Listeria (9.39鈥塴og10 reduction) at 4鈥壩糓. PRFR showed significant reduction of (log10 1.91) in bacterial count at 2鈥壩糓 and bacterial clearance at 8鈥壩糓. PANT showed significant reduction of (log10 1.3) in bacterial count at 8鈥壩糓 and bacterial clearance at 32鈥壩糓, respectively. PKFF was the least effective, as predicted from the MIC results and only produced a reduction of (log10 0.98) and (log10 2.78) in bacterial count at 16鈥壩糓 and 32鈥壩糓, respectively.Time kill kineticsAfter confirming the antisense constructs possessed excellent antimicrobial activity against L. monocytogenes, we next assessed the killing kinetics of the PNAs. We exposed L. monocytogenes strain F4244 to 32鈥壩糓 PNAs and control (water) for 12鈥塰ours. Samples were taken every 2鈥塰ours. As depicted in Fig. 1A, PRXR, PTAT and PRFR showed fast bactericidal activity with complete eradication of Listeria by 2鈥塰ours. PANT showed slow bactericidal activity with complete clearance after 10鈥塰ours. PKFF showed bacteriostatic effect with no reduction in bacteria after 12鈥塰ours incubation comparing to starting inoculum. As the initial time-kill assay revealed complete eradication of bacteria within two hours for PTAT, PRXR and PRFR, a second time kill assay was performed with a lower concentration of 8鈥壩糓 to determine how rapidly these constructs kill bacteria. Samples were taken every 20鈥塵inutes. Interestingly, we found that these three PNAs were capable of completely eliminating a high starting inoculum of bacteria (2.4鈥壝椻€?05 CFU/ml) within 20鈥塵inutes at 8鈥壩糓 concentration (Fig. 1B).Figure 1Time-kill analysis of PNAs against L. monocytogenes F4244. (A) 32鈥壩糓 of the five PNAs at 37鈥壜癈 were incubated for 12鈥塰ours and samples were collected every two hours. (B) 8鈥壩糓 of PTAT, PRXR and PRFR at 37鈥壜癈 were incubated for 2鈥塰ours and samples were collected every 20鈥塵inutes. The results are presented as means鈥壜扁€塖D from two independent experiments (n鈥?鈥?). (C) Permeabilization of the cytoplasmic membrane of L. monocytogenes F4244 indicated by percent of calcein leakage for 30鈥塵in exposure to PRXR and nisin. Samples were collected every 5鈥塵inutes. The results are given as means鈥壜扁€塖D (n鈥?鈥?; data without error bars indicate that the SD is too small to be seen).Full size imagePNA does not target the integrity of the bacterial cell membraneWe suspected that the rapid bactericidal activity of the PRXR, PTAT and PRFR PNAs was due to disruption of the bacterial cell membrane. To examine this, a calcein leakage assay was performed to investigate the effect of PNA on the integrity of the Listeria cell membrane. Cell membrane disruption leads to leakage of calcein from damaged preloaded bacterial cells, resulting in a reduction in the fluorescence intensity observed in both a concentration- and time-dependent manner15. Nisin, a known membrane-disrupting agent, was used as a positive control. At 8鈥壝椻€塎IC, the PRXR did not result in leakage of calcein from bacterial cells (matching the result obtained for the untreated control); in contrast, the antimicrobial peptide nisin, at 5鈥壝椻€塎IC, led to more than 72% leakage within 30鈥塵inutes (Fig. 1C). This result indicates the antisense construct does not target the integrity of the bacterial cell membrane.PNA inhibits rpoA gene expression and expression of virulence genesReal-Time qRT-PCR was utilized to determine the effect of PTAT on rpoA expression and the subsequent suppression of three important genes, hly, plcA and plcB encoding for Listeria virulence factors (Table S5). PTAT significantly inhibited the expression of rpoA in a concentration-dependent manner; at the lowest tested concentration of 1鈥壩糓, a 50% reduction in rpoA gene expression is observed (Fig. 2A). Interestingly, repression of rpoA led to significant repression of important virulence genes such as hly, plcA and plcB (Fig. 2B鈥揇). When tested at 2鈥壩糓 PTAT, the hly gene was downregulated by more than 50% while both plcA and plcB gene expression decreased by more than 70%. These results indicate that down regulation of the rpoA gene in L. monocytogenes (with the peptide nucleic acid) has a suppressive effect on other essential genes and virulence factors.Figure 2Concentration-dependent reduction of rpoA, hly, plcA and plcB expression after treatment with PTAT.Bacterial cultures were treated with 1, 2 and 4鈥壩糓 PTAT for 3.5鈥塰ours at 37鈥壜癈. Total RNA was extracted from the treated and untreated cultures. The levels of mRNA were determined by RT-PCR. (A) The level of rpoA expression. (B) The level of hly expression. (C) The level of plcA expression and (D) the level of plcB expression. P value of (*P鈥夆墹鈥?.05) is considered as significant.Full size imagePNA does not inhibit MitobiogenesisAntimicrobials that target microbial protein synthesis are considered excellent choices for the treatment of virulence and toxin-mediated bacterial infections16,17,18,19. In addition to the suppression of toxins and virulence factors, these antimicrobials also reduce excessive host-inflammatory responses associated with these toxins20,21. Hence, protein synthesis inhibitors are often preferred in clinical practice for the treatment of toxin-associated bacterial infections16,17,18,19. However, due to concern about possible toxicity to eukaryotic mitochondria, as observed with many antibacterial protein synthesis inhibitors such as linezolid and chloramphenicol22,23, we tested the effect of PNA on mitochondrial protein synthesis directly within mammalian cells. In-cell ELISA was performed in J774A.1 cells treated with PNA, ampicillin and linezolid for three days to detect the levels of mtDNA-encoded COX-I and nDNA-encoded SDH-A proteins. Results depicted in Fig. 3 indicate that the PNA behaves similar to the negative control antibiotic ampicillin which does not significantly inhibit mitobiogenesis; this confirms that the PNA does not interfere with the mitochondrial protein synthesis process. Linezolid, in contrast, inhibited mitochondrial protein synthesis by 65%. These results provide valuable information about the PNA鈥檚 safety profile against mammalian cells and the lack of interference with mitobiogenesis.Figure 3Effect of PNA, linezolid and ampicillin on mitobiogenesis.In cell- ELISA was carried out in the presence and absence of these drugs and the levels of mitochondrial (mt)-DNA encoded protein (COX-I) and nuclear-DNA encoded protein (SDH-A) in J774A.1 were quantified. Ratio of COX-I and SDH-A was calculated and the results were shown as percent inhibition of mitochondrial biogenesis.Full size imageAntimicrobial activity of PNA in infected cell cultureDue to the fact that Listeria infects, resides and replicates inside host cells, it was important to test the activity of our PNAs against intracellular Listeria. As presented in Table 3, PRXR displayed the most potent activity with significant reduction (Log10 1.78) in intracellular Listeria at 2鈥壩糓 and complete clearance of intracellular Listeria at 8鈥壩糓. PTAT and PRFR at 2鈥壩糓 demonstrated significant reductions of (Log10 0.78) and (Log10 0.84), respectively. PANT and PKFF were the least effective in eradicating intracellular Listeria producing (Log10 2.07) and (Log10 0.6) reductions, respectively, at 8鈥壩糓.Table 3 Effect of PNAs on eradicating L. monocytogenes F4244 inside infected J774A.1 cells.Full size tableActivity of PNA constructs in vivo using C. elegansConfirmation of PRXR, PTAT and PRFR鈥檚 ability to inhibit Listeria growth in vitro and in cell culture led us to assess the PNAs鈥?ability to treat an infection caused by L. monocytogenes in vivo. To test the efficacy of PNA in vivo we used Listeria-infected temperature-sensitive sterile mutant strain C. elegans AU37 [sek-1(km4); glp-4(bn2) I]. This strain is sterile at room temperature and can lay eggs only at 15鈥壜癈. Furthermore, mutation in the sek-1 gene of the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway (p38 MAPK pathway), makes this particular C. elegans strain more susceptible to Listeria infection. Initially, the pathogenicity of three strains of Listeria (F4244, J0161 and ATCC19111) was tested in C. elegans as described before24 to determine the most virulent strain to use for this study. Figure 4 shows the pathogenicity of three strains of Listeria (F4244, J0161 and ATCC19111) in C. elegans. Strain J0161 (clinical isolate from Human listeriosis) was the most pathogenic strain, killing 80% of worms in 6 days. This strain was selected for testing PNA treatment efficacy in vivo. Each antisense construct was tested at two concentrations (16鈥壩糓 and 32鈥壩糓) to treat C. elegans infected with L. monocytogenes J0161 for 18鈥塰ours. PTAT led to a significant reduction in bacteria both at 16鈥壩糓 and 32鈥壩糓 correlating to a 1.11 and 2.67鈥塴og CFU reduction, respectively (Fig. 5 and Table S6). PRFR resulted in 1.3 and 2.52鈥塴og CFU reduction at 16鈥壩糓 and 32鈥壩糓, respectively. A 1.89鈥塴og CFU reduction was achieved upon application of PANT at 32鈥壩糓 and PKFF caused a significant reduction both at 16 and 32鈥壩糓 concentration with 0.71 and 1.03鈥塴og CFU reduction, respectively. The best performing antisense construct in vivo was PRXR. Complete bacterial clearance was achieved by applying PRXR at 32鈥壩糓; this same construct (at 16鈥壩糓) produced a 1.91鈥塴og reduction in L. monocytogenes in infected worms.Figure 4Killing of C. elegans by different strains of L. monocytogenes. Worms were grown on lawns of bacteria for 8鈥塰ours before washing and transferring to microtitre plate. (A) Worms fed E. coli OP50 or L. monocytogenes J016. (B) Worms fed E. coli OP50 or L. monocytogenes 19111. (C) Worms fed E. coli OP50 or L. monocytogenes F4244.Full size imageFigure 5Evaluation of antimicrobial efficacy of PNAs in C. elegans model at 16鈥壩糓 (A) and 32鈥壩糓 (B). L. monocytogenes J0161 infected L4-stage worms were treated with PNAs and antibiotic for 18鈥塰. Worms were lysed and the CFUs were counted and the percent bacterial reduction per worm in treated groups were calculated in relative to the untreated control groups. 10 worms in triplicates were used for each treatment. The results are presented as means鈥壜扁€塖D from two independent experiments. Data without error bars indicate that the SD is too small to be seen. P values of (*鈮も€?.05) are considered as significant.Full size imageDiscussionAs an intracellular pathogen, L. monocytogenes manipulates the host cell machinery to gain entry into multiple cell types, escape phagosomes quickly and multiply in the cytosol of infected host cells25,26. This permits the pathogen to escape detection and eradication by the host immune response making clearance of infection very challenging. Traditional antibiotics are often incapable of passively permeating host cells to kill intracellular pathogens, making it difficult to treat infected patients. This limitation combined with the increasing prevalence of resistance to conventional antibiotics has led researchers to search for alternative agents that can be used as novel treatments. One promising agent that has emerged recently are peptide nucleic acids given their unique and targeted mode of action in silencing expression of essential genes. Conjugating these PNAs with an effective cell penetrating peptide permits the entry of PNAs into cells in order to eradicate intracellular pathogens harboring inside these cells.RNA polymerase (RNAP) is conserved among prokaryotes and plays a vital role as a key enzyme in gene expression and protein synthesis. Moreover, despite the similarities between prokaryotic and eukaryotic RNAPs in their pervasiveness, structure and function, there is no extensive sequence homology between the both of them9,27,28. These reasons highlight why bacterial rpoA is an excellent target to silence using PNAs.Previously our research group has investigated the capability of an anti-rpoA PNA and an anti-rpoD PNA to inhibit growth of L. monocytogenes5; this study revealed that the (KFF)3鈥塊-anti-rpoA PNA (PKFF) is more potent than the (KFF)3K-anti-rpoD PNA. Utilizing this information, we engineered five antisense agents (targeting the same genetic sequence of the L. monocytogenes rpoA gene) conjugated to five different cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) - (KFF)3K, antennapedia, TAT, PRXR and PRFR. The CPPs were selected based upon established studies. The synthetic CPP (KFF)3K has been used for delivery of PNAs in many Gram-positive bacteria including L. monocytogenes F42445, methicillin-resistant S. aureus27,29 and Streptococcus pyogenes30. Antennapedia is a known efficient vehicle to deliver antisense molecules into mammalian cells31,32,33. TAT has been shown to enhance the antisense effect of anti-gyrA PNA against Streptococcus pyogenes30. Multiple studies have demonstrated that the (RXR)4XB CPP acts as a potent tool for intracellular delivery of DNA analogues into a broad range of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria28,34,35. (RFR)4XB has been reported to be an effective carrier for intracellular delivery of antisense components into E. coli34. The mechanism of uptake for CPPs and their potentiality for intracellular delivery of cargo molecules are controversial36. Also, the nature of the cargo molecules affects the uptake properties of these peptides. Even with these challenges, CPPs are considered one of the few alternatives available to significantly enhance the effect of antisense agents in various applications36,37.Keeping the above points in mind, the objective of the present study was to assess the impact of different CPPs conjugated to the same anti-rpoA PNA to target and eradicate intracellular pathogens both in vitro and in vivo. In general, PTAT, PRXR and PRFR were found to be more potent than either PKFF or PANT. When compared to PKFF, all the three PNAs exhibited a 16-32 fold improvement in the MIC against L. monocytogenes. In the present study, the free unconjugated PNA did not possess antimicrobial activity against L. monocytogenes which would reinforce the notion that poor cellular uptake of PNAs remains a major constraint for utilization of PNA therapeutics to effectively target intracellular pathogens. Utilization of appropriate CPPs does help to facilitate the cellular uptake of the designed PNA into L. monocytogenes as noted by the improved antibacterial activity of the anti-rpoA PNA-CPP constructs tested against L. monocytogenes. However, the CPPs themselves (TAT, RXR and RFR) showed no growth inhibition in pure culture against L. monocytogenes F4244. This confirms that the antibacterial action of the antisense constructs relies directly on the inclusion of an effective PNA that can silence the expression of the target gene(s).After confirming the CPP-PNA constructs exhibited potent antimicrobial activity against L. monocytogenes, we next set out to determine if these constructs exhibit bacteriostatic or bactericidal activity. A time-kill assay was utilized and demonstrated that four constructs (PANT, PTAT, PRXR and PRFR) do in fact exhibit bactericidal activity (resulting in complete eradication of bacteria within 10鈥塰ours). Interestingly, the PTAT, PRXR and PRFR PNAs were capable of completely eliminating a high initial inoculum of L. monocytogenes within 20鈥塵inutes. The rapid bactericidal activity noted with these PNAs raised a question regarding whether these particular constructs were exhibiting a specific antisense effect or were potentially mimicking the effect of antimicrobial peptides as non-specific cell membrane disrupters15. To address this question, two experiments were performed (1) to determine the MIC of PRXR against MRSA USA300 in pure culture (to confirm its antibacterial activity was limited to L. monocytogenes) and (2) to conduct a calcein leakage assay (using 8鈥壝椻€塎IC of PRXR) to determine if this construct was capable of disrupting the bacterial cell membrane. When tested against MRSA, PRXR was incapable of inhibiting bacterial growth even up to a concentration of 16鈥壝椻€塎IC (data not shown), indicating that the construct has selective activity against the target pathogen (L. monocytogenes). The calcein leakage assay further confirmed that the PRXR does not permeabilize the bacterial cell membrane. Thus it appears from these results that the biological action of these CPP-PNA constructs is likely due to silencing the expression of the target gene (rpoA). This postulate was confirmed using Real-Time qRT-PCR to assess for the level of gene expression in the presence of increasing concentration of PNA.Our Real-Time qRT-PCR analysis revealed that the CPP-anti-rpoA constructs were in fact successful in reducing the expression of rpoA, in a concentration-dependent manner. As the concentration of the PTAT increased (from 1 to 4鈥壩糓), the percentage of gene expression of rpoA diminished significantly (from more than 50% to less than 5%). This clearly proves that the rpoA gene is critical for sustaining the viability of L. monocytogenes. Furthermore, rpoA gene inhibition leads to a reduction in the expression of other major virulence genes required for L. monocytogenes pathogenesis. Listeriolysin O (LLO), encoded by the hly gene, is considered the main virulence factor of L. monocytogenes and is a cytolytic toxin that forms pores in vacuolar membranes causing a passive flux of ions and macromolecules. This leads to quick vacuolar lysis and bacterial release into the cytosol38,39,40. In addition to LLO, L. monocytogenes secretes two phospholipases, PI-plc (encoded by plcA) and PC-plc (encoded by plcB). They are well-known virulence factors that work in concert with LLO in order to help the bacteria to escape from vacuoles present inside host cells40,41,42,43,44,45,46. At a concentration of 1鈥壩糓, the PTAT construct was able to produce a 43.7% reduction of the rpoA message and subsequently a 55.9% reduction in plcB gene expression. As the concentration of PNA was increased, the degree of gene expression declined sharply for all tested genes.As noted earlier, antimicrobials that target protein synthesis in bacteria are considered excellent choices for the treatment of virulence and toxins-mediated bacterial infections16,17,18,19 with one major caveat. These particular agents, including linezolid, often are toxic to mitochondria present in mammalian cells. Thus it was critical for us to assess whether our antisense constructs, given their impact on bacterial protein synthesis, had a negative impact on the mitochondria. The effect of PNAs on mitochondrial protein synthesis was detected by measuring the level of mtDNA-encoded protein COX- and nDNA-encoded protein SDH-A post-treatment. The PNA demonstrated no significant inhibition of mitobiogenesis, similar to the effect of ampicillin, which does not interfere with the mitochondrial protein synthesis process. These results provide valuable information that our antisense constructs do not interfere with mitobiogenesis.After confirming the mechanism of action of the tested PNAs was suppression of rpoA gene expression, we moved next to confirm that the PNAs could retain their activity in vivo, both inside macrophages (where L. monocytogenes reside normally) and using C. elegans as a unique animal model for infection. Therapeutic agents can often possess potent activity in vitro but fail to demonstrate efficacy in cell culture models or in in vivo studies. Therefore, to assess if these CPP-PNA constructs could retain their activity in vivo, we first tested our antisense constructs against L. monocytogenes infected murine macrophage cells. A significant reduction of the intracellular bacteria was achieved by PTAT, PRXR and PRFR PNAs at all tested concentrations. The antibacterial effect of the PNAs was concentration-dependent with no microscopically observed cytotoxicity. Additionally, complete clearance of the infection was observed when using the PRXR construct. Interestingly, PANT is more potent against L. monocytogenes F4244 in infected cell culture as compared to results obtained in pure culture.In vitro models cannot be used as a suitable substitute to simulate the actual environment present within an infected human host. Therefore, there is a need to identify alternative models to investigate the effect of antimicrobial compounds in a living system. In recent years, C. elegans has been established as a powerful model for in vivo screening of antimicrobials against multiple pathogens47,48,49,50,51. This provided the impetus for testing the effectiveness of our antisense constructs in C. elegans infected with L. monocytogenes. Our antisense constructs retained their potent antibacterial activity in vivo, significant reduction in bacteria (in relation to the untreated control) observed for PTAT, PRXR, PRFR and PKFF, when tested at 16 and 32鈥壩糓. This effect was concentration-dependent as a higher concentration of PRXR was needed to clear the infection. Significant reduction was achieved by application of PANT only at 32鈥壩糓 concentration. Additionally, our study revealed that there is a significant difference between using free unconjugated PNA as compared to PNAs conjugated to a CPP for treatment of the infected C. elegans. This confirms the important role of CPPs for intracellular delivery of antisense constructs to reach the target microorganism and silence gene expression. Though complete eradication of bacteria in infected worms was not achieved (except by using a high concentration of PRXR), this may be attributed to several factors. Among these factors include the bioavailability of PNAs inside the worms, non-specific binding and bio-distribution of the PNAs, high molecular weight and polarity of the constructs (limiting their ability to cross membrane barriers), in addition to the system complexity of C. elegans. Collectively these factors may explain the reduced antisense effect observed with the PNAs in the C. elegans model when compared with the results obtained in pure culture and cell culture8,52.In this study, we demonstrate that the bacterial rpoA gene, which encodes the 伪-subunit of RNA polymerase, is a critical gene for the viability of L. monocytogenes. Antisense targeting can successfully inhibit the expression of this gene and lead to direct bacterial cell death. This inhibition effect is concentration-dependent. Our investigation confirmed the antisense constructs were capable of killing L .monocytogenes in pure culture, in infected macrophage cells and in a C. elegans animal model. The rapid bactericidal effect observed is due to silencing of rpoA gene expression and not due to bacterial membrane disruption. Based upon our in vitro and in vivo results, we confirmed that (RXR)4XB followed by TAT and (RFR)4XB, are considered the most suitable vehicles to conjugate with the anti-rpoA peptide nucleic acid to target cells infected with L. monocytogenes. This work lays the foundation for investigating these CPPs in conjunction with other PNAs to silence expression of essential genes in intracellular pathogens.The present study validates the notion that the rpoA gene is an encouraging target for the development of the antisense therapeutics for effective targeting of intracellular pathogens like Listeria. Additionally, we confirmed that selecting an appropriate carrier/vehicle to deliver the PNA is very important in maximizing the antisense effect observed against the target microorganism.Materials and MethodsChemicals, reagents and kits usedTrypticase soy broth (TSB), trypticase soy agar (TSA), brain-heart infusion (BHI), Luria-Bertani (LB) broth and Luria-Bertani agar were purchased from BD/Difco (Sparks, Maryland, USA). Fetal bovine serum (FBS) and calcein AM were purchased from Life Technologies (Grand Island, NY, USA). Dulbecco鈥檚 modified Eagle鈥檚 medium (DMEM), Dulbecco鈥檚 Phosphate Buffered Saline (PBS), nisin, chloroform, isopropanol, agarose, ethidium bromide, Tris-Borate-EDTA buffer, free water and primers were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich Co. (St. Louis, MO, USA). Gentamicin, TRIzol Max Bacterial RNA Isolation Kit, SYBR Green PCR Master Mix, SuperScript II Reverse Transcriptase, 1鈥塳b plus DNA ladder were purchased from Invitrogen (Carlsbad, CA, USA). TURBO DNA-free Kit and DEPC-treated water were purchased from Ambion (Foster city, CA, USA). Random hexamers (Applied Biosystems, Carlsbad, CA, USA), QIAquick Gel Extraction Kit (Germantown, MD, USA) and In-Cell ELISA Kit (MitoSciences Inc., Eugene, OR, USA) were also used in this study.Bacterial strains and C. elegansMethods were carried out in accordance with the approved guidelines. Bacterial strains included in this study are described in Table S1. The temperature-sensitive sterile mutant strain C. elegans AU37 [sek-1(km4); glp-4(bn2) I] was used for testing the efficacy of PNAs in an in vivo model of Listeria infection. Worms were maintained on nematode growth media (NGM) plates seeded with Escherichia coli OP50. For infection, worms were maintained on LB agar plates seeded with L. monocytogenes J0161.Amplification and sequencing of rpoA 5鈥?terminal regionDNA was extracted from Listeria isolates by incubating ~109 colony forming units (CFU) of Listeria in water at 95鈥壜癈 for 10鈥塵inutes. The supernatant (containing DNA) was used for amplification of the rpoA 5鈥?terminal region including the ribosomal binding site and the start ATG codon by PCR. Primers RpoA-seqF and RpoA-seqR, indicated in Table S7, were used for amplification. Detection of PCR-amplified product was performed by electrophoresis on a 1% (wt/vol) agarose gel stained with ethidium bromide. Bands of DNA stained with ethidium bromide were visualized after exposure of the gel to ultraviolet (UV) light. Amplified PCR products were extracted from the gel using the QIAquick Gel Extraction Kit. The purified DNA fragments were sent for nucleotide sequencing at the Purdue Genomics Facility (ABI 3137XL low-throughput capillary machine) using the forward and reverse primers. Sequence alignment of the rpoA 5鈥?terminal region was performed with the BLAST alignment program present in the GenBank database (National Institutes of Health).Cell penetrating peptides and PNAsCell penetrating peptides ((KFF)3K6,7,10, antennapedia31,33, TAT30, (RXR)4XB28,34,35 and (RFR)4XB34, used in this study are presented in Table 1. Peptides were synthesized and purified by GenScript (Piscataway, NJ, USA). The 12 nucleotide target sequence of the PNA was chosen to be complementary to a specific target region of rpoA gene that exhibited previous success5. The CPPs (antennapedia, TAT, (RXR)4XB and (RFR)4XB) were covalently conjugated with the PNA. The (KFF)3K CPP has been reported before5. PNAs were synthesized and purified by PNA Bio Inc. (Thousand Oaks, CA, USA). Free PNA without CPP was synthesized and used as a control.Minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) and bacterial log reduction determinationThe MICs of conjugated PNAs, free PNA, CPPs and untreated control against L. monocytogenes were determined using the broth microdilution method according to the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) guidelines with the following modifications. Briefly, low binding clear microcentrifuge tubes (USA scientific, Inc. Ocala, FL) were used in triplicates for each reaction instead of traditional 96- well plates. The MIC was recorded as the lowest concentration where no turbidity was observed in the tubes. After a 16鈥塰our incubation period (of test agent with bacteria), the number of viable bacteria was enumerated by serial dilution and counting on TSA plates. The MICs were repeated at least twice.Time kill assayL. monocytogenes F4244 in logarithmic growth phase was diluted to ~105 CFU/ml and incubated with 32鈥壩糓 of the five PNAs (in triplicates) at 37鈥壜癈 for 12鈥塰ours. Samples were collected every two hours, serially diluted and plated onto TSA plates. Plates were then incubated wat 37鈥壜癈 for 24鈥塰ours before viable CFUs were determined.As the initial time-kill assay revealed complete eradication of bacteria within two hours for PTAT, PRXR and PRFR, a second time-kill assay was performed for these three constructs using a lower concentration (8鈥壩糓). Samples were collected every 20鈥塵inutes and processed as above.Calcein leakage assayTo investigate the effect of PNA on the integrity of the Listeria cell membrane, the leakage of the preloaded fluorescent dye, calcein, was monitored and quantified as described before with a few modifications15. Briefly, 20鈥塵l of logarithmic growth phase (OD600鈥?鈥?.0, ~109 CFU/ml) L. monocytogenes F4244 was centrifuged and bacteria were resuspended in 9鈥塵l of sterile PBS plus 1鈥塵l of BHI. 3鈥壩糓 of calcein AM dye was added to the bacterial suspension prior to covering the suspension with aluminum foil and incubating for one hour at 37鈥壜癈. After 10鈥塵inutes centrifugation at 3,000鈥壝椻€?i>g, the supernatant was discarded. The calcein-loaded bacterial cells were resuspended in 30鈥塵l of sterile PBS and 100鈥壩糒 calcein-loaded bacteria were distributed in a 96-well microtiter plate (in triplicate). PRXR was added in a concentration equal to 8鈥壝椻€塎IC (8鈥壩糓). Nisin 5鈥壝椻€塎IC (10鈥壩糶/ml) and sterile water were used as positive and negative controls, respectively. Intensity of fluorescence (calcein leakage) was detected every 5鈥塵inutes for 30鈥塵inutes using a fluorescence plate reader (FLx800 model BioTek庐 Instruments, Inc. Winooski, Vermont) with the excitation and emission filters adjusted to 485鈥塶m and 520鈥塶m, respectively.Measuring gene expression in PNA-treated ListeriaTo detect the expression of rpoA and assess the effect on expression of virulence genes including hly, plcA and plcB, a quantitative real-time PCR experiment was carried out (proposed function of these genes are presented in TABLe S1). Briefly, PTAT at a final concentration of 1, 2 and 4鈥壩糓 was incubated with 109鈥塁FU/ml of L. monocytogenes F4244 for 3.5鈥塰ours at 37鈥壜癈. Total RNA was extracted from the treated and untreated cultures using the TRIzol Max Bacterial RNA Isolation Kit. The phase separation step, using chloroform, was repeated twice to minimize the carryover of phenol and guanidine isothiocyanate. To eliminate genomic DNA contamination, the RNA samples were subjected to Turbo DNase treatment (Ambion, Grand Island, NY, USA). The absence of genomic DNA was confirmed using conventional PCR and running samples on a 1% agarose gel. RNA quantity and purity was determined using the NanoDrop 1000 (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Waltham, MA, USA).For first strand CDNA synthesis, seventy nanograms of Turbo DNase treated RNA were reverse transcribed using random hexamers (Applied biosystems, CA, USA) and SuperScript II Reverse Transcriptase (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA, USA), according to the manufacturer鈥檚 protocol. Specific primers for the 16鈥塻 rRNA, rpoA, hly, plcA and plcB genes were designed and purchased commercially (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA) (Table S7).Each cDNA reaction was conducted using duplicate samples. Amplification was performed in an ABI 7300 Real-Time PCR System (Applied Biosystems, CA, USA) using the following conditions; 95鈥壜癈 for 10鈥塵inutes as an initial step for DNA polymerase activation, 95鈥壜癈 for 15鈥塻econds for melting and 60鈥壜癈 for one minute for annealing/extension (40 cycles for each). 16鈥塻 rRNA was used as the internal reference gene. The absence of primer dimers was confirmed by the melting curve as well as running the reaction on a 1% agarose gel. Real-Time qRT-PCR results were analyzed via the 2(-Delta Delta C(T)) method53.Mitobiogenesis assayTo measure the effect of PNA on the mitochondrial biogenesis, In-Cell ELISA Kit (MitoSciences Inc., Eugene, OR, USA) was used as per the manufacturer鈥檚 instructions54,55. Briefly, J774A.1 cells were seeded (approximately 40,000 cells per well) in 96-well plates and allowed to adhere. After overnight incubation, PTAT was added to a final concentrations of 0, 0.1, 1, 10 and 20鈥壩糓 in duplicate. Ampicillin and linezolid were used at similar concentrations as negative and positive controls, respectively. Cells were allowed to grow for approximately 3 days. Media were removed and cells were washed with PBS, then fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde. After fixing, cells were washed with PBS and permeabilization and blocking processes were done according to the manufacturer鈥檚 instructions. Primary antibodies to detect the levels of two proteins (subunit I of Complex IV (COX-I), that is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)-encoded) and the 70鈥塳Da subunit of Complex II (SDH-A), a nuclear DNA (nDNA)-encoded were added and incubated for overnight at 4鈥壜癈. After incubation, cells were washed with PBS and secondary antibodies were added and incubated at room temperature for one hour. After washing, the expression of SDH-A and COX-1 were measured at 405鈥塶m and 600鈥塶m wavelength, respectively. The ratio between COX-I and SDH-A was calculated and the percent of inhibition of mitochondrial biogenesis was determined.Cell culture infection assayTo assess the ability of the PNAs to clear an intracellular infection caused by L. monocytogenes, a modified version of a previously described cell culture infection assay was performed5. Briefly, J774A.1 cells in 96-well plates were infected with L. monocytogenes F4244 at a 1:10 multiplicity of infection (MOI) for 30鈥塵inutes and treated with gentamicin to kill extracellular Listeria. PNAs were added to a final concentration of 2, 4 and 8鈥壩糓 and the cells were incubated for 4鈥塰ours at 37鈥壜癈 with 5% CO2. After incubation the cells were washed three times with PBS, lysed using 0.1% Triton X-100 and the intracellular bacteria were counted by serial dilution and plating on TSA plates.Efficacy of PNA treatment in an animal model of infectionTo test the efficacy of PNA in vivo we used Listeria-infected C. elegans. The temperature-sensitive sterile mutant strain C. elegans AU37 [sek-1(km4); glp-4(bn2) I] was used for this study. This strain is sterile at room temperature and can lay eggs only at 15鈥壜癈. Furthermore, mutation in the sek-1 gene of the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway (p38 MAPK pathway), makes this particular C. elegans strain more susceptible to Listeria infection49,56. Initially, the pathogenicity of three strains of Listeria (F4244, J0161 and ATCC19111) was tested in C. elegans as described before24 to determine the most virulent strain to use for this study. Strain J0161 (most virulent strain) was chosen for testing PNA treatment efficacy in vivo. Briefly, adult worms were grown for 5 days, at 15鈥壜癈 (temperature that permits worms to lay eggs) on NGM agar plates seeded with a lawn of E. coli OP50. The eggs were harvested by bleaching57 and maintained for 24鈥塰ours at room temperature with gentle agitation for hatching. Hatched larvae were transferred to a new NGM plate seeded with E. coli OP50 and were kept at room temperature for five days until worms reached the adult stage of growth. Adult worms were collected and washed three times with M9 media in a 1:10 ratio to remove E. coli before transfer to LB agar plates seeded with a lawn of L. monocytogenes J0161 for infection. After eight hours of infection, worms were collected and washed with M9 buffer five times before incubation with PNAs. Worms were transferred to low-binding microcentrifuge tubes (10 worms per tube). PNAs were added to the tubes in triplicates to achieve a final concentration of either 16 or 32鈥壩糓. Sterile water and gentamicin (16 and 32鈥壩糓) were used as negative and positive controls, respectively. After treatment for 18鈥塰ours, worms were washed five times with M9 buffer. Worms were examined microscopically before lysis for morphological changes and viability (live worms are sinusoidal with movement, whereas dead worms are rigid rods).The worms were lysed by addition of 200鈥塵g of 1.0-mm silicon carbide particles (Biospec Products, Bartlesville, OK) to each tube and vortexing for one minute (the silicon carbide particles disrupt the worms but do not affect bacterial survival). Samples were serially diluted and plated onto TSA plates containing 5鈥壩糶/ml nalidixic acid to select for Listeria.Statistical analysisStatistical analysis was performed utilizing GraphPad Prism 6.0 (GraphPad Software, La Jolla, CA). Statistical significance was assessed using the two-tailed Student鈥檚 t-test and ANOVA. P values of 0.05 were considered significant. Data are presented as mean鈥壜扁€塖D.Additional InformationHow to cite this article: Abushahba, M. F. N. et al. 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SeleemDepartment of Animal Hygiene and Zoonoses, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Assiut University, Assiut, EgyptMostafa F. N. Abushahba聽 聽Asmaa A. A. HusseinAuthorsMostafa F. N. AbushahbaView author publicationsYou can also search for this author in PubMed聽Google ScholarHaroon MohammadView author publicationsYou can also search for this author in PubMed聽Google ScholarShankar ThangamaniView author publicationsYou can also search for this author in PubMed聽Google ScholarAsmaa A. A. HusseinView author publicationsYou can also search for this author in PubMed聽Google ScholarMohamed N. SeleemView author publicationsYou can also search for this author in PubMed聽Google ScholarContributionsM.S. and M.A. designed the study. S.T., M.A. and H.M. did experiments. M.A., A.H. and M.S. analyzed data. M.A., H.M. and M.S. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.Ethics declarations Competing interests The authors declare no competing financial interests. 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Sci Rep 6, 20832 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep20832Download citationReceived: 02 November 2015Accepted: 08 January 2016Published: 10 February 2016DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/srep20832 Atze J Bergsma, Stijn LM in 鈥榯 Groen, Frans W Verheijen, Ans T van der Ploeg WWM Pim Pijnappel Molecular Therapy - Nucleic Acids (2016) CommentsBy submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate. Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter 鈥?what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.
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