Chemical modification of uridine modulates mRNA-mediated proinflammatory and antiviral response in primary human macrophages


In vitro transcribed (IVT)-mRNA has been accepted as a promising therapeutic modality. Advances in facile and rapid production technologies make IVT-mRNA an appealing alternative to protein- or virus-based medicines. Robust expression levels, lack of genotoxicity and their manageable immunogenicity benefit its clinical applicability. We postulated that innate immune responses of therapeutically relevant human cells can be tailored or abrogated by combinations of 5’-end and internal IVT-mRNA modifications. Using primary human macrophages as targets, our data show the particular importance of uridine modifications for IVT-mRNA performance. Among five nucleotide modification schemes tested, 5-methoxy-uridine outperformed other modifications up to 4-fold increased transgene expression, triggering moderate proinflammatory and non-detectable antiviral responses. Macrophage responses against IVT-mRNAs exhibiting high immunogenicity (e.g., pseudouridine) could be minimized upon HPLC purification. Conversely, 5’-end modifications, had only modest effects on mRNA expression and immune responses. Our results revealed how the uptake of chemically modified IVT-mRNA impacts human macrophages, responding with distinct patterns of innate immune responses concomitant with increased transient transgene expression. We anticipate our findings are instrumental to predictively address specific cell responses required for wide range of therapeutic applications from eliciting controlled immunogenicity in mRNA vaccines to, e.g., completely abrogating cell activation in protein replacement therapies.
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