Efficient electroporation of neuronal cells using synthetic oligonucleotides: identifying duplex RNA and antisense oligonucleotide activators of human frataxin expression

RNA. 2019 Sep;25(9):1118-1129. doi: 10.1261/rna.071290.119. Epub 2019 May 31.


Oligonucleotide drugs are experiencing greater success in the clinic, encouraging the initiation of new projects. Resources are insufficient to develop every potentially important project, and persuasive experimental data using cell lines close to disease target tissue is needed to prioritize candidates. Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a devastating and currently incurable disease caused by insufficient expression of the enzyme frataxin (FXN). We have previously shown that synthetic nucleic acids can activate FXN expression in human patient-derived fibroblast cells. We chose to further test these compounds in induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neuronal progenitor cells (iPSC-NPCs). Here we describe methods to deliver oligonucleotides and duplex RNAs into iPSC-NPCs using electroporation. Activation of FXN expression is potent, easily reproducible, and potencies parallel those determined using patient-derived fibroblast cells. A duplex RNA and several antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) with different combinations of 2'-methoxyethyl (2'-MOE), 2'-fluoro (2'-F), and constrained ethyl (cEt) were active, providing multiple starting points for further development and highlighting improved potency as an important goal for preclinical development. Our data support the conclusion that ASO-mediated activation of FXN is a feasible approach for treating FRDA and that electroporation is a robust method for introducing ASOs to modulate gene expressions in neuronal cells.

Keywords: antisense oligonucleotide; electroporation; frataxin; gene activation; therapeutic development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Electroporation / methods
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Frataxin
  • Friedreich Ataxia / metabolism
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Iron-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Oligonucleotides / metabolism*
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / metabolism*
  • RNA / metabolism*


  • Iron-Binding Proteins
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • RNA