Arginine-Rich Peptide-Based mRNA Nanocomplexes Efficiently Instigate Cytotoxic T Cell Immunity Dependent on the Amphipathic Organization of the Peptide

Adv Healthc Mater. 2017 Jul;6(13). doi: 10.1002/adhm.201601412. Epub 2017 Apr 24.


To date, the mRNA delivery field has been heavily dominated by lipid-based systems. Reports on the use of nonlipid carriers for mRNA delivery in contrast are rare in the context of mRNA vaccination. This paper describes the potential of a cell-penetrating peptide containing the amphipathic RALA motif to deliver antigen-encoding mRNA to the immune system. RALA condenses mRNA into nanocomplexes that display acidic pH-dependent membrane disruptive properties. RALA mRNA nanocomplexes enable mRNA escape from endosomes and thereby allow expression of mRNA inside the dendritic cell cytosol. Strikingly, RALA mRNA nanocomplexes containing pseudouridine and 5-methylcytidine modified mRNA elicit potent cytolytic T cell responses against the antigenic mRNA cargo and show superior efficacy in doing so when compared to RALA mRNA nanocomplexes containing unmodified mRNA. RALA's unique sequence and structural organization are vital to act as mRNA vaccine vehicle, as arginine-rich peptide variants that lack the RALA motif show reduced mRNA complexation, impaired cellular uptake and lose the ability to transfect dendritic cells in vitro and to evoke T cell immunity in vivo.

Keywords: CD8+ T cell responses; RALA mRNA nanocomplexes; cpp; endosomal escape; mRNA vaccines.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Animals
  • Antigens* / genetics
  • Antigens* / pharmacology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cell-Penetrating Peptides* / chemistry
  • Cell-Penetrating Peptides* / pharmacokinetics
  • Cell-Penetrating Peptides* / pharmacology
  • Cytoplasm / immunology
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Endosomes / immunology
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • RNA, Messenger* / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger* / pharmacology


  • Antigens
  • Cell-Penetrating Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger