The influence of chirality on the behavior of oligonucleotides inside cells: revealing the potent cytotoxicity of G-rich l-RNA. Academic Article uri icon


  • Due to their intrinsic nuclease resistance, mirror image l-oligonucleotides are being increasingly employed in the development of biomedical research tools and therapeutics. Yet, the influence of chirality on the behavior of oligonucleotides in living systems, and specifically, the extent to which l-oligonucleotides interact with endogenous biomacromolecules and the resulting consequences remain unknown. In this study, we characterized the intracellular behavior of l-oligonucleotides for the first time, revealing important chirality-dependent effects on oligonucleotide cytotoxicity. We show that exogenously delivered l-oligonucleotides have the potential to be highly cytotoxic, which is dependent on backbone chemistry, sequence, and structure. Notably, for the sequences tested, we found that single-stranded G-rich l-RNAs are more cytotoxic than their d-DNA/RNA counterparts, exhibiting low nanomolar EC50 values. Importantly, RNA-seq analysis of differentially expressed genes suggests that G-rich l-RNAs stimulate an innate immune response and pro-inflammatory cytokine production. These data not only challenge the general perception that mirror image l-oligonucleotides are nontoxic and nonimmunogenic, but also reveal previously unrecognized therapeutic opportunities. Moreover, by establishing sequence/structure toxicity relationships, this work will guide how future l-oligonucleotide-based biotechnologies are designed and applied.

published proceedings

  • Chem Sci

altmetric score

  • 6.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Yu, C., & Sczepanski, J. T.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Yu, Chen-Hsu||Sczepanski, Jonathan T

publication date

  • February 2023