Environmentally Triggerable Retinoic Acid-Inducible Gene I Agonists Using Synthetic Polymer Overhangs

Bioconjug Chem. 2018 Mar 21;29(3):742-747. doi: 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.7b00697. Epub 2018 Jan 19.


Retinoic acid-inducible gene I (RIG-I) is a cytosolic pattern recognition receptor (PRR) that potently activates antiviral innate immunity upon recognition of 5' triphosphorylated double-stranded RNA (pppRNA). Accordingly, RNA ligands of the RIG-I pathway have recently emerged as promising antiviral agents, vaccine adjuvants, and cancer immunotherapeutics. However, RIG-I is expressed constitutively in virtually all cell types, and therefore administration of RIG-I agonists causes risk for systemic inflammation and possible dose-limiting toxicities. Here, we establish proof-of-concept and initial design criteria for pppRNA prodrugs capable of activating the RIG-I pathway in response to specific environmental stimuli. We show that covalent conjugation of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) to the 3' end of the complementary strand, i.e., on the same side but opposite strand as the 5' triphosphate group, can generate a synthetic overhang that prevents RIG-I activation. Additionally, conjugation of PEG through a cleavable linker-here, a reducible disulfide bond-allows for removal of the synthetic overhang and restoration of immunostimulatory activity. Furthermore, we demonstrate that blockade of RIG-I activation via synthetic overhangs is dependent on PEG molecular weight, with a critical molecular weight between 550 and 1000 Da required to inhibit activity. Additionally, we demonstrate that blockade of RIG-I activity is conjugation site-dependent, as ligation of PEG to the opposite end of the RNA did not influence ligand activity. Collectively, this work demonstrates that conjugation of synthetic polymer overhangs to pppRNA through cleavable linkers is a viable strategy for the development of environmentally triggerable RIG-I-targeting prodrugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • DEAD Box Protein 58 / immunology*
  • Drug Discovery
  • Humans
  • Interferon-beta / immunology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemical synthesis
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / pharmacology
  • Prodrugs / chemical synthesis
  • Prodrugs / chemistry*
  • Prodrugs / pharmacology
  • RNA / chemical synthesis
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • RNA / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Prodrugs
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • RNA
  • Interferon-beta
  • RIGI protein, human
  • DEAD Box Protein 58