Targeted delivery of antisense oligonucleotides (ASO) to hepatocytes via the asialoglycoprotein receptor (ASGR) has improved the potency of ASO drugs ∼30-fold in the clinic (1). In order to fully characterize the effect of GalNAc valency, oligonucleotide length, flexibility and chemical composition on ASGR binding, we tested and validated a fluorescence polarization competition binding assay. The ASGR binding, and in vitro and in vivo activities of 1, 2 and 3 GalNAc conjugated single stranded and duplexed ASOs were studied. Two and three GalNAc conjugated single stranded ASOs bind the ASGR with the strongest affinity and display optimal in vitro and in vivo activities. 1 GalNAc conjugated ASOs showed 10-fold reduced ASGR binding affinity relative to three GalNAc ASOs but only 2-fold reduced activity in mice. An unexpected observation was that the ASGR also appears to play a role in the uptake of unconjugated phosphorothioate modified ASOs in the liver as evidenced by the loss of activity of GalNAc conjugated and unconjugated ASOs in ASGR knockout mice. Our results provide insights into how backbone charge and chemical composition assist in the binding and internalization of highly polar anionic single stranded oligonucleotides into cells and tissues.
© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.