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1. WO2017060314 - 3' UTR SEQUENCES FOR STABILIZATION OF RNA

Note: Text based on automatic Optical Character Recognition processes. Please use the PDF version for legal matters

[ EN ]

3' UTR SEQUENCES FOR STABILIZATION OF RNA

The use of RNA offers an attractive alternative to DNA in order to circumvent the potential safety risks connected with the therapeutic use of DNA. In vitro-transcribed RNA (IVT-RNA) is of particular interest in therapeutic approaches. The advantages of a therapeutic use of RNA include transient expression and a non-transforming character. RNA does not need to enter the nucleus in order to be expressed and moreover cannot integrate into the host genome, thereby eliminating the risk of oncogenesis. When used for vaccination, injection of RNA can induce both cellular and humoral immune responses in vivo. However, the use of RNA for clinical applications is greatly restricted especially by the short half life of RNA.

IVT vectors may be used in a standardized manner as template for in vitro transcription. Such IVT vectors may have the following structure: a 5' RNA polymerase promoter enabling RNA transcription, followed by a gene of interest which is flanked either 3' and/or 5' by untranslated regions (UTR), and a 3' polyadenyl cassette containing A nucleotides. Prior to in vitro transcription, the circular plasmid is linearized downstream of the polyadenyl cassette by type II restriction enzymes (recognition sequence corresponds to cleavage site). The polyadenyl cassette thus corresponds to the later poly (A) sequence in the transcript.

Human immature dendritic cells (hiDCs) are widely used to develop and improve immunotherapies for cancer treatment. Loaded with in vitro transcribed (IVT)-mRNA encoding a specific tumor antigen (TA), hiDCs are able to induce an effective anti-tumor response. However, a prerequisite for an effective immune response using RNA-based cancer vaccines is high stability and translation efficiency of the RNA. Both can be improved by structural modifications of the 5'-CAP, the 3' poly(A)-tail as well as the 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs). Sequence elements within the UTRs affect translational efficiency (mainly 5'-UTR) and RNA stability (mainly 3'-UTR).

In previous work we have demonstrated that two consecutive copies of the human beta-globin 3'-UTR (now called 2hBg; previously also 2βgUTR) contribute to higher transcript stability and translational efficiency (Holtkamp (2006) Blood 108:4009-4017). However, the presence of two identical copies of the human beta-globin 3'-UTR sequence in the plasmid DNA, which is ultimately used as template for the in vitro transcription of RNA, bears the risk of recombination during its propagation in E. coli. Similarly, any cloning approach, especially using PCR-based amplification, is very difficult. The same holds true for PCR-based amplification of the RNA-encoding region with the 2hBg at the 3'-end to be used as template for the in vitro transcription, because here mispriming, which leads to omission of one copy of the human beta-globin 3'-UTR, has been observed. To avoid these problems we sought to identify novel sequences that have a stabilizing effect on in vitro transcribed mRNA at least similar to, ideally even better than, the 2hBg sequence .

It was the object of the present invention to provide RNA with increased stability and/or translation efficiency and means for obtaining such RNA. It should be possible to obtain increased grades of expression by using said RNA in therapy.

This object is achieved according to the invention by the subject matter of the claims.

The present invention relates to stabilization of RNA, in particular mRNA, and an increase in mRNA translation. The present invention particularly relates to a modification of RNA, in particular in vitro-transcribed RNA, resulting in increased transcript stability and/or translation efficiency.

According to the invention, it was demonstrated that certain sequences in the 3'-untranslated region (UTR) of an RNA molecule improve stability and translation efficiency.

Using RNA modified according to the invention in the transfection of dendritic cells (DCs), it will be possible, for example, to increase the density of antigen-specific peptide/MHC complexes on the transfected cells and their ability to stimulate and expand antigen-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. The invention therefore, in one embodiment, relates to a strategy for optimizing RNA vaccines for transfecting DC or RNA-transfected DC vaccines by using RNA which has been modified by the RNA modifications described according to the invention.

According to the invention, modification, and thereby stabilization and/or increase in translation efficiency, of RNA is preferably achieved by genetically modifying expression vectors which preferably serve as template for RNA transcription in vitro. These expression vectors allow transcription of RNA with a 3'-untranslated region described according to the invention, and preferably between the sequence coding for a peptide or protein (open reading frame) and the poly(A) sequence.

These vectors may also allow transcription of RNA with a poly (A) sequence which preferably has an open end in said RNA, i.e. no nucleotides other than A nucleotides flank said poly(A) sequence at its 3' end. An open-ended poly (A) sequence in the RNA can be achieved by introducing a type IIS restriction cleavage site into an expression vector which allows RNA to be transcribed under the control of a 5' RNA polymerase promoter and which contains a polyadenyl cassette, wherein the recognition sequence is located 3' of the polyadenyl cassette, while the cleavage site is located upstream and thus within the polyadenyl cassette. Restriction cleavage at the type IIS restriction cleavage site enables a plasmid to be linearized within the polyadenyl cassette. The linearized plasmid can then be used as template for in vitro transcription, the resulting transcript ending in an unmasked poly (A) sequence. Furthermore, an optional disruption of the 3' polyadenyl cassette by a random nucleotide sequence, with an equal distribution of the 4 nucleotides (linker), increases the stability of the 3' polyadenyl cassette in E.coli.

Summary of the invention

In one aspect, the invention relates to a nucleic acid molecule comprising in the 5' → 3' direction of transcription:

(a) a promoter;

(b) a transcribable nucleic acid sequence or a nucleic acid sequence for introducing a transcribable nucleic acid sequence; and

(c) a nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed under the control of the promoter (a), codes for a 3'-untranslated region in the transcript, said 3'-untranslated region comprising a nucleic acid sequence which is selected from the group consisting of:

(c-1) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of FCGRT, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(c-2) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of LSP1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-3) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of CCL22, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-5) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of PLD3, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(c-7) the nucleic sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of HLA-DRB4, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

and

(c-8) any combination of two or more of the nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants under (c-1), (c-2), (c-3), (c-4), (c-5), (c-6) and (c-7).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (b) and (c) under the control of the promoter (a) can be transcribed to give a common transcript in which the nucleic acid sequence transcribed from the nucleic acid sequence (c) is active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of the nucleic acid sequence transcribed from the transcribable nucleic acid sequence (b).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (b) and (c) are not naturally linked.

In one embodiment, (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment comprises a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NOs: 86 to 89, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment.

In one embodiment, (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment comprises a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID

NO: 86, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment.

one embodiment, (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment comprises a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NOs: 105 to 121, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment.

In one embodiment, (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment comprises a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 115, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequence (c-8) comprises a combination of two or more identical or different nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants under (c-1), (c-2), (c-3), (c-4), (c-5), (c-6) and (c-7). In various embodiments, the nucleic acid sequence (c-8) comprises a combination of (c-1) and (c-2), (c-1) and (c-3), (c-1) and (c-4), (c-1) and (c-5), (c-1) and (c-6), (c-1) and (c-7), (c-2) and (c-3), (c-2) and (c-4), (c-2) and (c-5), (c-2) and (c-6), (c-2) and (c-7), (c-3) and (c-4), (c-3) and (c-5), (c-3) and (c-6), (c-3) and (c-7), (c-4) and (c-5), (c-4) and (c-6), (c-4) and (c-7), (c-5) and (c-6), (c-5) and (c-7), or (c-6) and (c-7).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequence (c-8) comprises a combination of (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, and (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment is located 5' to (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the combination of (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, and (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment comprises a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 174, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid molecule of the invention further comprises (d) a nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed under the control of the promoter (a), codes for a nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides. In one embodiment, said polyadenyl sequence comprises at least 20 A nucleotides, preferably at least 40, at least 80, at least 100 or at least 120 A nucleotides, preferably consecutive A nucleotides. In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is a sequence, preferably an arbitrary sequence, of 2 or more consecutive nucleotides, wherein the first and the last nucleotide of said sequence of 2 or more consecutive nucleotides is a nucleotide other than an A nucleotide. In one embodiment, said nucleic acid sequence (d) is a nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed under the control of the promoter (a), codes for a nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides and which exhibits higher stability upon propagation of said nucleic acid molecule in Escherichia coli compared to a nucleic acid molecule which comprises instead of said nucleic acid sequence (d) a nucleic acid sequence (d)' which, when transcribed under the control of the promoter (a), codes for a polyadenyl sequence of the same length as said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides. In one embodiment, said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides comprises at least 80 nucleotides, preferably at least 90 or 100 nucleotides. In one embodiment, said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides comprises at least 90 nucleotides, preferably at least 100 nucleotides, preferably at least 110 nucleotides. In one embodiment, said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides comprises about 120 nucleotides. In particular embodiments, said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides comprises up to 200, preferably up to 150, and, in particular, up to 130 nucleotides. In one embodiment, at least 90%, preferably at least 92%, preferably at least 95%, 97% or 98% of the nucleotides of said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides are A nucleotides in said polyadenyl sequence (not including A nucleotides in said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides).

In one embodiment , said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is located within a region from position 21 to position 80, preferably from position 21 to position 60, more preferably from position 31 to position 50 of said polyadenyl sequence.

In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is preceeded by at least 20 A residues, preferably at least 30, 40 or 50 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence. In particular embodiments, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is preceeded by up to 80 A residues, preferably up to 70 or 60 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence.

In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is followed by at least 20 A residues, preferably at least 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence. In particular embodiments, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is followed by up to 100 A residues, preferably up to 80 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence.

In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is preceeded by 20 to 50, preferably 30 to 40 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence and is followed by 30 to 80, preferably 40 to 70 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence.

In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides has a length of at least 3, at least 4, at least 5, at least 6, at least 8, preferably at least 10, more preferably at least 15 nucleotides.

In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides has a length of no more than 50, preferably no more than 30, more preferably no more than 20 nucleotides.

In one embodiment, said sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides does not comprise more than 3, preferably no more than 2, preferably no consecutive A residues.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (b), (c) and (d) under the control of the promoter (a) can be transcribed to give a common transcript. In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences transcribed from the nucleic acid sequences (c) and optionally (d) are active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of the nucleic acid sequence transcribed from the transcribable nucleic acid sequence (b).

In one embodiment, in the transcript said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is located at the 3' end.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid molecule of the invention is a DNA molecule. In one embodiment, said nucleic acid molecule is an expression vector or plasmid such as an IVT vector.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid molecule of the invention is a closed circular molecule or a linear molecule.

In one embodiment, the transcribable nucleic acid sequence comprises a nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein and the nucleic acid sequence for introducing a transcribable nucleic acid sequence is a multiple cloning site.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid molecule of the invention further comprises one or more members selected from the group consisting of: (i) a reporter gene; (ii) a selectable marker; and (iii) an origin of replication.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid molecule of the invention is suitable, in particular after linearization, for in vitro transcription of RNA, in particular mRNA.

Prior to in vitro transcription, circular IVT vectors are generally linearized downstream of the polyadenyl cassette by type II restriction enzymes (recognition sequence corresponds to cleavage site). The polyadenyl cassette thus corresponds to the later poly (A) sequence in the transcript. As a result of this procedure, some nucleotides remain as part of the enzyme cleavage site after linearization and extend or mask the poly (A) sequence at the 3' end. However, it was found that RNA having an open-ended poly (A) sequence is translated more efficiently than RNA having a poly (A) sequence with a masked terminus.

Accordingly, nucleic acid molecules of the invention when used as expression vectors preferably allow transcription of RNA with a poly (A) sequence which preferably has an open end in said RNA, i.e. no nucleotides other than A nucleotides flank said poly (A) sequence at its 3' end. An open-ended poly (A) sequence in the RNA can be achieved by introducing a type IIS restriction cleavage site into an expression vector which allows RNA to be transcribed under the control of a 5' RNA polymerase promoter and which contains a polyadenyl cassette, wherein the recognition sequence is located downstream of the polyadenyl cassette, while the cleavage site is located upstream and thus within the polyadenyl cassette. Restriction cleavage at the type IIS restriction cleavage site enables a plasmid to be linearized within the polyadenyl cassette. The linearized plasmid can then be used as template for in vitro transcription, the resulting transcript ending in an unmasked poly (A) sequence.

Accordingly, in one embodiment, it is preferred that the nucleic acid molecule of the invention can be cleaved, preferably enzymatically or in another biochemical way, within the nucleic acid sequence (d) in such a way that said cleavage results in a nucleic acid molecule which comprises, in the 5' → 3' direction of transcription, the promoter (a), the nucleic acid sequences (b) and (c), and at least a part of the nucleic acid sequence (d), wherein the at least a part of the nucleic acid sequence (d), when transcribed under the control of the promoter (a), codes for said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides and wherein in the transcript the 3'-terminal nucleotide is an A nucleotide of said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides.

Preferably, after cleavage, the nucleic acid molecule, at the end of the strand that serves as template for the nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides, has a T nucleotide which is part of the nucleic acid sequence which serves as template for the nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides.

The nucleic acid molecule of the invention is preferably a closed circular molecule prior to cleavage and a linear molecule after cleavage.

Preferably, cleavage is carried out with the aid of a restriction cleavage site which is preferably a restriction cleavage site for a type IIS restriction endonuclease.

In one embodiment, the recognition sequence for the type IIS restriction endonuclease is located 5-26 base pairs, preferably 24-26 base pairs, downstream of the 3' end of the nucleic acid sequence (d).

In one embodiment, a nucleic acid molecule according to the invention is in a closed circular conformation and preferably suitable for in vitro transcription of RNA, in particular mRNA, in particular after linearization.

In further aspects, the invention relates to a nucleic acid molecule obtainable by linearization of an above-described nucleic acid molecule, preferably by cleavage within the nucleic acid sequence (d), and to RNA obtainable by transcription, preferably in vitro transcription, with above-described nucleic acid molecules under the control of the promoter (a).

Thus, the invention in one aspect relates to RNA comprising in the 5' → 3' direction:

(a) a 5'-untranslated region;

(b) a nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein; and

(c) a 3'-untranslated region, said 3'-untranslated region comprising a nucleic acid sequence which is selected from the group consisting of:

(c-1) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of FCGRT, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-2) the nucleic acid sequence of the 33-untranslated region of LSP1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-3) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of CCL22, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(c-5) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of PLD3, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (c-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(c-7) the nucleic sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of HLA-DRB4, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

and

(c-8) any combination of two or more of the nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants under (c-1), (c-2), (c-3), (c-4), (c-5), (c-6) and (c-7).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (b) and (c) are not naturally linked.

In one embodiment, the RNA further comprises (d) a nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides. In one embodiment, said nucleic acid sequence (d) is located at the 3' end of said RNA.

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (c) and optionally (d) are active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of the nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein.

In one embodiment, the RNA further comprises (e) a 5' Cap.

Embodiments of the 3'-untranslated region and the nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides are as described above for the nucleic acid molecules of the invention.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to a method of obtaining RNA, comprising:

(i) providing a nucleic acid molecule of the invention, and

(ii) transcribing RNA using the nucleic acid molecule as a template.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to a method of obtaining a peptide or protein, comprising:

(i) obtaining RNA encoding the peptide or protein according to the method of obtaining RNA of the invention, and

(ii) translating the RNA.

In one embodiment, the method of obtaining RNA or the method of obtaining a peptide or protein further comprises, prior to transcription of the nucleic acid molecule, cleavage of the nucleic acid molecule.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to a method of obtaining RNA, comprising:

(i) coupling a nucleic acid sequence (b) which, when transcribed, codes for a 3'-untranslated region, at the 3' end of a transcribable nucleic acid sequence (a) comprising a nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein, and

(ii) transcribing the nucleic acid obtained,

said 3'-untranslated region comprising a nucleic acid sequence which is selected from the group consisting of:

(b-1) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of FCGRT, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(b-2) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of LSP1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(b-3) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of CCL22, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment, (b-4) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(b-5) the nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of PLD3, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(b-6) the nucleic acid sequence of the non-coding RNA of MT-RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

(b-7) the nucleic sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of HLA-DRB4, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment,

and

(b-8) any combination of two or more of the nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants under (b-1), (b-2), (b-3), (b-4), (b-5), (b-6) and (b-7).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (a) and (b) can be transcribed to give a common transcript in which the nucleic acid sequence transcribed from the nucleic acid sequence (b) is active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of the nucleic acid sequence transcribed from the transcribable nucleic acid sequence (a).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (a) and (b) are not naturally linked.

In one embodiment, the method further comprises coupling a nucleic acid sequence (c) which, when transcribed, codes for a nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides, at the 3' end of the nucleic acid sequence (b).

In one embodiment, the nucleic acid sequences (a), (b), and (c) can be transcribed to give a common transcript in which the nucleic acid sequences transcribed from the nucleic acid sequences (b) and, optionally, (c) are active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of the nucleic acid sequence transcribed from the transcribable nucleic acid sequence (a).

Embodiments of the 3'-untranslated region and the nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides are as described above for the nucleic acid molecules of the invention.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to a method of obtaining a peptide or protein, comprising:

(i) obtaining RNA by the method of obtaining RNA of the invention, and

(ii) translating the RNA.

The methods of the invention may be performed in vitro or in vivo. In one embodiment of any of the methods of the invention, transcription is carried out in vitro.

In one embodiment, the method of obtaining RNA or the method of obtaining a peptide or protein further comprises, prior to transcription of the nucleic acid molecule, cleavage of the nucleic acid molecule.

In one embodiment, cleavage is within the nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed, codes for a nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides in such a way that transcription of the nucleic acid obtained in this way generates a transcript which has at its 3'-terminal end said nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides, wherein the 3'-terminal nucleotide of said transcript is an A nucleotide of the nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides.

In all aspects of the methods according to the invention, cleavage is preferably carried out with the aid of a restriction cleavage site which is preferably a restriction cleavage site for a type IIS restriction endonuclease.

In one embodiment, the recognition sequence for the type IIS restriction endonuclease is 5-26 base pairs, preferably 24-26 base pairs, downstream of the 3' end of the nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed, codes for a nucleic acid sequence which is a polyadenyl sequence optionally comprising within the polyadenyl sequence a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides.

The invention also relates to RNA obtainable by the methods according to the invention of obtaining RNA.

The invention may be utilized, for example, for increasing expression of recombinant proteins in cellular transcription and expression. More specifically, it is possible, when producing recombinant proteins, to use expression vectors of the invention for transcription of recombinant nucleic acids and expression of recombinant proteins in cell-based systems. This includes, for example, the preparation of recombinant antibodies, hormones, cytokines, enzymes, and the like. This allows inter alia production costs to be reduced.

It is also possible to use the nucleic acid molecules of the invention for gene therapy applications. Accordingly, a nucleic acid molecule of the invention may be a gene therapy vector and used for expression of a transgene. To this end, any nucleic acid (DNA/RNA)-based vector systems (for example plasmids, adenoviruses, poxvirus vectors, influenza virus vectors, alphavirus vectors, and the like) may be used.

Cells can be transfected with these vectors in vitro, for example in lymphocytes or dendritic cells, or else in vivo by direct administration.

RNA of the invention (e.g. obtained using a nucleic acid molecule described herein as a transcription template) may be employed, for example, for transient expression of genes, with possible fields of application being RNA-based vaccines which are transfected into cells in vitro or administered directly in vivo, transient expression of functional recombinant proteins in vitro, for example in order to initiate differentiation processes in cells or to study functions of proteins, and transient expression of functional recombinant proteins such as erythropoietin, hormones, coagulation inhibitors, etc., in vivo, in particular as pharmaceuticals.

RNA of the invention may be used in particular for transfecting antigen-presenting cells and thus as a tool for delivering the antigen to be presented and for loading antigen-presenting cells, with said antigen to be presented corresponding to the peptide or protein expressed from said RNA or being derived therefrom, in particular by way of intracellular processing such as cleavage, i.e. the antigen to be presented is, for example, a fragment of the peptide or protein expressed from the RNA. Such antigen-presenting cells may be used for stimulating T cells, in particular CD4+ and/or CD8+ T cells.

Accordingly, in a further aspect, the invention relates to a use of the RNA of the invention for transfecting a host cell. In one embodiment, the host cell is an antigen-presenting cell, in particular a dendritic cell, a monocyte or a macrophage.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to a use of the RNA of the invention for therapy, in particular for vaccination.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to a pharmaceutical composition such as a vaccine composition comprising the RNA of the invention.

In a further aspect, the invention relates to the RNA of the invention for the uses described herein.

Detailed description of the invention

Although the present invention is described in detail below, it is to be understood that this invention is not limited to the particular methodologies, protocols and reagents described herein as these may vary. It is also to be understood that the terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only, and is not intended to limit the scope of the present invention which will be limited only by the appended claims. Unless defined otherwise, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meanings as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art.

In the following, the elements of the present invention will be described. These elements are listed with specific embodiments, however, it should be understood that they may be combined in any manner and in any number to create additional embodiments. The variously described examples and preferred embodiments should not be construed to limit the present invention to only the explicitly described embodiments. This description should be understood to support and encompass embodiments which combine the explicitly described embodiments with any number of the disclosed and/or preferred elements. Furthermore, any permutations and combinations of all described elements in this application should be considered disclosed by the description of the present application unless the context indicates otherwise. For example, if in a preferred embodiment a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is preceeded by at least 20 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence and if in another preferred embodiment a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is followed by at least 20 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence, it is a contemplated preferred embodiment that a sequence of one or more consecutive nucleotides containing nucleotides other than A nucleotides is preceeded and followed by at least 20 A residues in said polyadenyl sequence.

Preferably, the terms used herein are defined as described in "A multilingual glossary of biotechnological terms: (IUPAC Recommendations)", H.G.W. Leuenberger, B. Nagel, and H. Kolbl, Eds., Helvetica Chimica Acta, CH-4010 Basel, Switzerland, (1995).

The practice of the present invention will employ, unless otherwise indicated, conventional methods of chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, immunology, and recombinant DNA techniques which are explained in the literature in the field (cf., e.g., Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual, 2nd Edition, J. Sambrook et al. eds., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor 1989).

Throughout this specification and the claims which follow, unless the context requires otherwise, the word "comprise", and variations such as "comprises" and "comprising", will be understood to imply the inclusion of a stated member, integer or step or group of members, integers or steps but not the exclusion of any other member, integer or step or group of members, integers or steps. The terms "a" and "an" and "the" and similar reference used in the context of describing the invention (especially in the context of the claims) are to be construed to cover both the singular and the plural, unless otherwise indicated herein or clearly contradicted by context. Recitation of ranges of values herein is merely intended to serve as a shorthand method of referring individually to each separate value falling within the range. Unless otherwise indicated herein, each individual value is incorporated into the specification as if it were individually recited herein. All methods described herein can be performed in any suitable order unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context. The use of any and all examples, or exemplary language (e.g., "such as"), provided herein is intended merely to better illustrate the invention and does not pose a limitation on the scope of the invention otherwise claimed. No language in the specification should be construed as indicating any non-claimed element essential to the practice of the invention.

Several documents are cited throughout the text of this specification. Each of the documents cited herein (including all patents, patent applications, scientific publications, manufacturer's specifications, instructions, etc.), whether supra or infra, are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety. Nothing herein is to be construed as an admission that the invention is not entitled to antedate such disclosure by virtue of prior invention.

The present invention describes nucleic acid molecules such as DNA plasmids useful as RNA expression vectors comprising nucleic acid sequences encoding modified 3' untranslated regions (UTRs) in the RNA having a stabilizing effect on the RNA and/or increasing translational efficiency of the RNA.

The term "nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed, codes for a 3'-untranslated region in the transcript" relates to a nucleic acid sequence containing a template strand coding for said 3'-untranslated region. Preferably, said nucleic acid sequence comprises a coding strand comprising the same nucleic acid sequence as said 3'-untranslated region of the RNA transcript produced (although with thymine replaced for uracil). Thus, according to the invention a "nucleic acid sequence which, when transcribed, codes for a 3'-untranslated region in the transcript", in one embodiment, comprises a coding strand comprising a 3'-untranslated region as specified herein (although with thymine replaced for uracil).

The term "FCGRT " relates to Fc fragment of IgG, receptor, transporter, alpha and includes the FCGRT gene. This gene encodes a receptor that binds the Fc region of monomeric immunoglobulin G. The encoded protein transfers immunoglobulin G antibodies from mother to fetus across the placenta. This protein also binds immunoglobulin G to protect the antibody from degradation.

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of FCGRT, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 1 to 50 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 1 to 50. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 27 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 27.

The term "LSP1" relates to Lymphocyte-Specific Protein 1 and includes the LSP1 gene. This gene encodes an intracellular F-actin binding protein. The protein is expressed in lymphocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, and endothelium and may regulate neutrophil motility, adhesion to fibrinogen matrix proteins, and transendothelial migration.

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of LSP1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 51 to 72 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 51 to 72. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 52 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 52.

The term "CCL22 " relates to Chemokine (C-C Motif) Ligand 22 and includes the CCL22 gene. The product of this gene binds to chemokine receptor CCR4. This chemokine may play a role in the trafficking of activated T lymphocytes to inflammatory sites and other aspects of activated T lymphocyte physiology.

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of CCL22, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 73 to 85 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 73 to 85. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 79 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 79.

The term "AES" relates to Amino-Terminal Enhancer Of Split and includes the AES gene. The protein encoded by this gene belongs to the groucho/TLE family of proteins, can function as a homooligomer or as a heteroologimer with other family members to dominantly repress the expression of other family member genes.

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of AES, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 86 to 89 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 86 to 89. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 86 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 86. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of positions 1 to 68, positions 1 to 102, positions 35 to 102, positions 35 to 136, or positions 68 to 136 of SEQ ID NO: 86 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of positions 1 to 68, positions 1 to 102, positions 35 to 102, positions 35 to 136, or positions 68 to 136 of SEQ ID NO: 86.

The term "PLD3" relates to Phospholipase D Family, Member 3 and includes the PLD3 gene. This gene encodes a member of the phospholipase D (PLD) family of enzymes that catalyze the hydrolysis of membrane phospholipids. The encoded protein is a single-pass type II membrane protein and contains two PLD phosphodiesterase domains. This protein influences processing of amyloid-beta precursor protein. Mutations in this gene are associated with Alzheimer disease risk.

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of PLD3, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 90 to 104 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 90 to 104. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 96 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 96.

The term "MT_RNR1 " relates to Mitochondrially Encoded 12S RNA and includes the MT_RNR1 gene. This RNA gene belongs to the Mt_rRNA class. Diseases associated with MT-RNR1 include restrictive cardiomyopathy and auditory neuropathy. Among its related pathways are Ribosome biogenesis in eukaryotes and CFTR translational fidelity (class I mutations).

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of MT_RNR1, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 105 to 121 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 105 to 121. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 115 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 115. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of positions 1 to 71, positions 1 to 107, positions 37 to 107, positions 37 to 142, or positions 71 to 142 of SEQ ID NO: 115 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of positions 1 to 71, positions 1 to 107, positions 37 to 107, positions 37 to 142, or positions 71 to 142 of SEQ ID NO: 115.

The term "HLA-DRB4 " relates to Major Histocompatibility Complex, Class II, DR Beta 4 and includes the HLA-DRB4 gene. HLA-DRB4 belongs to the HLA class II beta chain paralogues . This class II molecule is a heterodimer consisting of an alpha (DRA) and a beta (DRB) chain, both anchored in the membrane. It plays a central role in the immune system by presenting peptides derived from extracellular proteins. Class II molecules are expressed in antigen presenting cells (APC: B lymphocytes, dendritic cells, macrophages).

The term "nucleic acid sequence of the 3'-untranslated region of HLA-DRB4, a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment" relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 122 to 143 of the sequence listing or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 122 to 143. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 126 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 126.

The term "any combination of two or more of the nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants" with respect to the nucleic acid sequences of the 3'-untranslated regions of certain genes, fragments thereof, or variants of said nucleic acid sequences or fragments means that 2 or more, 3 or more or 4 or more and preferably up to 6 or up to 5 of said nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants are lined up head-to-tail, optionally spaced by linkers. In one embodiment, the combination of two or more of the nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants comprises two or more different and/or two or more identical nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants. In one embodiment, the combination of two or more of the nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants comprises two or more different nucleic acid sequences, fragments and/or variants of the 3'-untranslated region of the same and/or different genes.

In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 144 to 220, preferably SEQ ID NOs: 174 and 208 to 220. In one embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence selected from the group consisting of SEQ ID NOs: 144 to 220, preferably SEQ ID NOs: 174 and 208 to 220 or a fragment thereof, or a variant of said nucleic acid sequence or fragment. In one particularly preferred embodiment, the term relates to a nucleic acid sequence comprising, preferably consisting of the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 174 or comprising, preferably consisting of a nucleic acid sequence which is at least 90%, preferably at least 95%, more preferably at least 98% identical to the nucleic acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 174.

The term "linker" according to the invention relates to a nucleic acid sequence added between two nucleic acid sequences to connect said two nucleic acid sequences. There is no particular limitation regarding the linker sequence.

According to the invention, a nucleic acid molecule or a nucleic acid sequence refers to a nucleic acid which is preferably deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA). According to the invention, nucleic acids comprise genomic DNA, cDNA, mRNA, recombinantly prepared and chemically synthesized molecules. According to the invention, a nucleic acid may be in the form of a single-stranded or double-stranded and linear or covalently closed circular molecule.

In the context of the present invention, the term "RNA" relates to a molecule which comprises ribonucleotide residues and preferably being entirely or substantially composed of ribonucleotide residues. The term "ribonucleotide" relates to a nucleotide with a hydroxyl group at the 2'-position of a β-D-ribofuranosylgroup . The term "RNA" comprises double-stranded RNA, single stranded RNA, isolated RNA such as partially or completely purified RNA, essentially pure RNA, synthetic RNA, and recombinantly generated RNA such as modified RNA which differs from naturally occurring RNA by addition, deletion, substitution and/or alteration of one or more nucleotides. Such alterations can include addition of non-nucleotide material, such as to the end(s) of a RNA or internally, for example at one or more nucleotides of the RNA. Nucleotides in RNA molecules can also comprise non-standard nucleotides, such as non-naturally occurring nucleotides or chemically synthesized nucleotides or deoxynucleotides . These altered RNAs can be referred to as analogs, particularly analogs of naturally-occurring RNAs. According to the invention, RNA includes mRNA.

The term "mRNA" means "messenger-RNA" and relates to a transcript which is generated by using a DNA template and encodes a peptide or protein. Typically, mRNA comprises a 5'-UTR, a protein coding region, a 3'-UTR, and a poly (A) sequence. mRNA may be generated by in vitro transcription from a DNA template. The in vitro transcription methodology is known to the skilled person. For example, there is a variety of in vitro transcription kits commercially available. According to the invention, mRNA may be modified by further stabilizing modifications and capping, in addition to the modifications according to the invention.

In one embodiment of the present invention, RNA is self-replicating RNA, such as single stranded self-replicating RNA. In one embodiment, the self-replicating RNA is single stranded RNA of positive sense. In one embodiment, the self-replicating RNA is viral RNA or RNA derived from viral RNA. In one embodiment, the self-replicating RNA is alphaviral genomic RNA or is derived from alphaviral genomic RNA. In one embodiment, the self-replicating RNA is a viral gene expression vector. In one embodiment, the virus is Semliki forest virus. In one embodiment, the self-replicating RNA contains one or more transgenes. In one embodiment, if the RNA is viral RNA or derived from viral RNA, the transgenes may partially or completely replace viral sequences such as viral sequences encoding structural proteins. In one embodiment, the self-replicating RNA is in vitro transcribed RNA.

The term "5'-cap" refers to a cap structure found on the 5'-end of an mRNA molecule and generally consists of a guanosine nucleotide connected to the mRNA via an unusual 5' to 5' triphosphate linkage. In one embodiment, this guanosine is methylated at the 7-position. The term "conventional 5'-cap" refers to a naturally occurring RNA 5'-cap, preferably to the 7-methylguanosine cap (m7G). In the context of the present invention, the term "5'-cap" includes a 5'-cap analog that resembles the RNA cap structure and is modified to possess the ability to stabilize RNA if attached thereto, preferably in vivo and/or in a cell. Providing an RNA with a 5'-cap or 5'-cap analog may be achieved by in vitro transcription of a DNA template in the presence of said 5'-cap or 5'-cap analog, wherein said 5'-cap is co-transcriptionally incorporated into the generated RNA strand, or the RNA may be generated, for example, by in vitro transcription, and the 5'-cap may be generated post-transcriptionally using capping enzymes, for example, capping enzymes of vaccinia virus.

The term "nucleic acid" according to the invention also comprises a chemical derivatization of a nucleic acid on a nucleotide base, on the sugar or on the phosphate, and nucleic acids containing non-natural nucleotides and nucleotide analogs.

"Fragment" or "fragment of a nucleic acid sequence" relates to a part of a nucleic acid sequence, i.e. a sequence which represents the nucleic acid sequence shortened at the 5'- and/or 3'-end(s). Preferably, a fragment when it replaces said nucleic acid sequence in an RNA molecule retains RNA stability and/or translational efficiency. Preferably, a fragment of a nucleic acid sequence comprises at least 80%, preferably at least 90%, 95%, 96%, 97%, 98%, or 99% of the nucleotide residues from said nucleic acid sequence.

The term "variant" with respect to, for example, nucleic acid and amino acid sequences, according to the invention includes any variants, in particular mutants, splice variants, conformations, isoforms, allelic variants, species variants and species homologs, in particular those which are naturally present. An allelic variant relates to an alteration in the normal sequence of a gene, the significance of which is often unclear. Complete gene sequencing often identifies numerous allelic variants for a given gene. A species homolog is a nucleic acid or amino acid sequence with a different species of origin from that of a given nucleic acid or amino acid sequence.

According to the invention, nucleic acid variants include single or multiple nucleotide deletions, additions, mutations and/or insertions in comparison with the reference nucleic acid. Deletions include removal of one or more nucleotides from the reference nucleic acid. Addition variants comprise 5'- and/or 3'-terminal fusions of one or more nucleotides, such as 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, or more nucleotides. Mutations can include but are not limited to substitutions, wherein at least one nucleotide in the sequence is removed and another nucleotide is inserted in its place (such as transversions and transitions), abasic sites, crosslinked sites, and chemically altered or modified bases. Insertions include the addition of at least one nucleotide into the reference nucleic acid.

With respect to nucleic acid molecules, the term "variant" includes degenerate nucleic acid sequences, wherein a degenerate nucleic acid according to the invention is a nucleic acid that differs from a reference nucleic acid in codon sequence due to the degeneracy of the genetic code.

Preferably the degree of identity between a given nucleic acid sequence and a nucleic acid sequence which is a variant of said given nucleic acid sequence will be at least 70%, preferably at least 75%, preferably at least 80%, more preferably at least 85%, even more preferably at least 90% or most preferably at least 95%, 96%, 97%, 98% or 99%. The degree of identity is preferably given for a region of at least about 30, at least about 50, at least about 70, at least about 90, at least about 100, at least about 150, at least about 200, at least about 250, at least about 300, or at least about 400 nucleotides. In preferred embodiments, the degree of identity is given for the entire length of the reference nucleic acid sequence.

"Sequence similarity" indicates the percentage of amino acids that either are identical or that represent conservative amino acid substitutions. "Sequence identity" between two polypeptide or nucleic acid sequences indicates the percentage of amino acids or nucleotides that are identical between the sequences.

The term "% identical" is intended to refer, in particular, to a percentage of nucleotides which are identical in an optimal alignment between two sequences to be compared, with said percentage being purely-statistical, and the differences between the two sequences may be randomly distributed over the entire length of the sequence and the sequence to be compared may comprise additions or deletions in comparison with the reference sequence, in order to obtain optimal alignment between two sequences. Comparisons of two sequences are usually carried out by comparing said sequences, after optimal alignment, with respect to a segment or "window of comparison", in order to identify local regions of corresponding sequences. The optimal alignment for a comparison may be carried out manually or with the aid of the local homology algorithm by Smith and Waterman, 1981, Ads App. Math. 2, 482, with the aid of the local homology algorithm by Neddleman and Wunsch, 1970, J. Mol. Biol. 48, 443, and with the aid of the similarity search algorithm by Pearson and Lipman, 1988, Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 85, 2444 or with the aid of computer programs using said algorithms (GAP, BESTFIT, FASTA, BLAST P, BLAST N and TFASTA in Wisconsin Genetics Software Package, Genetics Computer Group, 575 Science Drive, Madison, Wis.).

Percentage identity is obtained by determining the number of identical positions in which the sequences to be compared correspond, dividing this number by the number of positions compared and multiplying this result by 100.

For example, the BLAST program "BLAST 2 sequences" which is available on the website http://www.ncbi .nlm.nih.gov/blast/bl2seq/wblast2.cgi may be used.

A nucleic acid is "capable of hybridizing" or "hybridizes" to another nucleic acid if the two sequences are complementary with one another. A nucleic acid is "complementary" to another nucleic acid if the two sequences are capable of forming a stable duplex with one another. According to the invention, hybridization is preferably carried out under conditions which allow specific hybridization between polynucleotides (stringent conditions). Stringent conditions are described, for example, in Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual, J. Sambrook et al ., Editors, 2nd Edition, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, 1989 or Current Protocols in Molecular Biology, F.M. Ausubel et al., Editors, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York and refer, for example, to hybridization at 65°C in hybridization buffer (3.5 x SSC, 0.02% Ficoll, 0.02% polyvinylpyrrolidone, 0.02% bovine serum albumin, 2.5 mM NaH2PO4 (pH 7), 0.5% SDS, 2 mM EDTA). SSC is 0.15 M sodium chloride/0.15 M sodium citrate, pH 7. After hybridization, the membrane to which the DNA has been transferred is washed, for example, in 2 x SSC at room temperature and then in 0.1-0.5 x SSC/0.1 x SDS at temperatures of up to 68°C.

A percent complementarity indicates the percentage of contiguous residues in a nucleic acid molecule that can form hydrogen bonds (e.g., Watson-Crick base pairing) with a second nucleic acid sequence (e.g., 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 out of 10 being 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, and 100% complementary). "Perfectly complementary" or "fully complementary" means that all the contiguous residues of a nucleic acid sequence will hydrogen bond with the same number of contiguous residues in a second nucleic acid sequence. Preferably, the degree of complementarity according to the invention is at least 70%, preferably at least 75%, preferably at least 80%, more preferably at least 85%, even more preferably at least 90% or most preferably at least 95%, 96%, 97%, 98% or 99%. Most preferably, the degree of complementarity according to the invention is 100%.

The term "derivative" comprises any chemical derivatization of a nucleic acid on a nucleotide base, on the sugar or on the phosphate. The term "derivative" also comprises nucleic acids which contain nucleotides and nucleotide analogs not occurring naturally. Preferably, a derivatization of a nucleic acid increases its stability.

Fragments or variants of specific nucleic acid sequences or nucleic acid sequences having a particular degree of identity to specific nucleic acid sequences preferably have at least one functional property of said specific sequences and preferably are functionally equivalent to said specific sequences, e.g. nucleic acid sequences exhibiting properties identical or similar to those of the specific nucleic acid sequences.

One important property is to retain or improve stability of an RNA molecule and/or translational efficiency and includes in particular the ability to increase, in a functional linkage to a nucleic acid which can be transcribed into RNA (transcribable nucleic acid sequence) or a nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein, the stability and/or translation efficiency of RNA produced from this nucleic acid or of the nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein in the complete RNA molecule.

In one embodiment, if a specific nucleic acid sequence is active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of another nucleic acid sequence, a fragment or variant of the specific nucleic acid sequence or a nucleic acid sequence having a particular degree of identity to the specific nucleic acid sequence is also active so as to increase the translation efficiency and/or the stability of the another nucleic acid sequence (when it replace the specific nucleic acid sequence). A fragment or variant of the specific nucleic acid sequence or a nucleic acid sequence having a particular degree of identity to the specific nucleic acid sequence may be as active as or more active than the specific nucleic acid sequence or activity of a fragment or variant of the specific nucleic acid sequence or of a nucleic acid sequence having a particular degree of identity to the specific nucleic acid sequence may be at least 50%, at least 60%, at least 70%, at least 80%, or at least 90% of the activity of the specific nucleic acid sequence.

According to the invention, "functional linkage" or "functionally linked" relates to a connection within a functional relationship. A nucleic acid is "functionally linked" if it is functionally related to another nucleic acid sequence. For example, a promoter is functionally linked to a coding sequence if it influences transcription of said coding sequence. Functionally linked nucleic acids are typically adjacent to one another, where appropriate separated by further nucleic acid sequences, and, in particular embodiments, are transcribed by RNA polymerase to give a single RNA molecule (common transcript). Preferably, a sequence which is a variant with respect to a specific sequence, when it replaces the specific sequence in an RNA molecule retains RNA stability and/or translational efficiency.

According to the invention, a "nucleic acid sequence which is derived from a nucleic acid sequence" refers to a nucleic acid which is a variant of the nucleic acid from which it is derived.

"3' end of a nucleic acid" refers according to the invention to that end which has a free hydroxy group. In a diagrammatic representation of double-stranded nucleic acids, in particular DNA, the 3' end is always on the right-hand side. "5' end of a nucleic acid" refers according to the invention to that end which has a free phosphate group. In a diagrammatic representation of double-strand nucleic acids, in particular DNA, the 5' end is always on the left-hand side .

5' end 5'--P-NNNNNNN-OH-3 ' 3' end

3'-HO-NNNNNNN-P- -5'

In particular embodiments, a nucleic acid is functionally linked according to the invention to expression control sequences which may be homologous or heterologous with respect to the nucleic acid.

A transcribable nucleic acid sequence, in particular a nucleic acid sequence coding for a peptide or protein, and an expression control sequence are "functionally" linked to one another, if they are covalently linked to one another in such a way that transcription or expression of the transcribable and in particular coding nucleic acid sequence is under the control or under the influence of the expression control sequence. If the nucleic acid sequence is to be translated into a functional peptide or protein, induction of an expression control sequence functionally linked to the coding sequence results in transcription of said coding sequence, without causing a frame shift in the coding sequence or the coding sequence being unable to be translated into the desired peptide or protein.

The term "expression control sequence" comprises according to the invention promoters, ribosome-binding sequences and other control elements which control transcription of a gene or translation of the derived RNA. In particular embodiments of the invention, the expression control sequences can be regulated. The precise structure of expression control sequences may vary depending on the species or cell type but usually includes 5'-untranscribed and 5'- and 3'-untranslated sequences involved in initiating transcription and translation, respectively, such as TATA box, capping sequence, CAAT sequence and the like. More specifically, 5'-untranscribed expression control sequences include a promoter region which encompasses a promoter sequence for transcription control of the functionally linked gene. Expression control sequences may also include enhancer sequences or upstream activator sequences.

The nucleic acid sequences specified herein, in particular transcribable and coding nucleic acid sequences, may be combined with any expression control sequences, in particular promoters, which may be homologous or heterologous to said nucleic acid sequences, with the term "homologous" referring to the fact that a nucleic acid sequence is also functionally linked naturally to the expression control sequence, and the term "heterologous" referring to the fact that a nucleic acid sequence is not naturally functionally linked to the expression control sequence.

The term "promoter" or "promoter region" refers to a DNA sequence upstream (5') of the coding sequence of a gene, which controls expression of said coding sequence by providing a recognition and binding site for RNA polymerase. The promoter region may include further recognition or binding sites for further factors involved in regulating transcription of said gene. A promoter may control transcription of a prokaryotic or eukaryotic gene. A promoter may be "inducible" and initiate transcription in response to an inducer, or may be "constitutive" if transcription is not controlled by an inducer. An inducible promoter is expressed only to a very small extent or not at all, if an inducer is absent. In the presence of the inducer, the gene is "switched on" or the level of transcription is increased. This is usually mediated by binding of a specific transcription factor.

Examples of promoters preferred according to the invention are promoters for SP6, T3 or T7 polymerase.

According to the invention, the term "expression" is used in its most general meaning and comprises production of RNA or of RNA and protein. It also comprises partial expression of nucleic acids. Furthermore, expression may be transient or stable. With respect to RNA, the term "expression" or "translation" relates to the process in the ribosomes of a cell by which a strand of messenger RNA directs the assembly of a sequence of amino acids to make a peptide or protein.

The term "nucleic acid sequences which can be transcribed to give a common transcript" means that said nucleic acid sequences are functionally linked to one another in such a way that, where appropriate after linearization such as restriction enzyme cleavage of the nucleic acid molecule comprising said nucleic acid sequences, in particular of a closed circular nucleic acid molecule, transcription under the control of a promoter results in an RNA molecule comprising the transcripts of said nucleic acid sequences covalently bound to one another, where appropriate separated by sequences located inbetween.

In the context of the present invention, the term "transcription" relates to a process, wherein the genetic code in a DNA sequence is transcribed into RNA. Subsequently, the RNA may be translated into protein. According to the present invention, the term "transcription" comprises "in vitro transcription", wherein the term "in vitro transcription" relates to a process wherein RNA, in particular mRNA, is in vitro synthesized in a cell-free system. Preferably, cloning vectors are applied for the generation of transcripts. These cloning vectors are generally designated as transcription vectors and are according to the present invention encompassed by the term "vector". According to the present invention, RNA preferably is in vitro transcribed RNA (IVT-RNA) and may be obtained by in vitro transcription of an appropriate DNA template. The promoter for controlling transcription can be any promoter for any RNA polymerase. A DNA template for in vitro transcription may be obtained by cloning of a nucleic acid, in particular cDNA, and introducing it into an appropriate vector for in vitro transcription. The cDNA may be obtained by reverse transcription of RNA.

The term "nucleic acid sequence transcribed from a nucleic acid sequence" refers to RNA, where appropriate as part of a complete RNA molecule, which is a transcription product of the latter nucleic acid sequence .

The term "nucleic acid sequence which is active in order to increase the translation efficiency and/or stability of a nucleic acid sequence" means that the first nucleic acid sequence is capable of modifying, in a common transcript with the second nucleic acid sequence, the translation efficiency and/or stability of said second nucleic acid sequence in such a way that said translation efficiency and/or stability is increased in comparison with the translation efficiency and/or stability of said second nucleic acid sequence without said first nucleic acid sequence. In this context, the term "translation efficiency" relates to the amount of translation product provided by an RNA molecule within a particular period of time and the term "stability" relates to the half life of an RNA molecule.

Modification, and thereby stabilization and/or increase in translation efficiency, of RNA can be achieved according to the invention by genetically modifying expression nucleic acid molecules of the invention when used as expression vectors in such a way that they allow transcription of RNA with 3'-untranslated regions as described herein at its 3' end, and preferably between the sequence coding for a peptide or protein (open reading frame) and the poly (A) sequence

The term "3'-untranslated region" relates to a region which is located at the 3' end of a gene, downstream of the termination codon of a protein-encoding region, and which is transcribed but is not translated into an amino acid sequence, or to the corresponding region in an RNA molecule.

According to the invention, a first polynucleotide region is considered to be located downstream of a second polynucleotide region, if the 5' end of said first polynucleotide region is the part of said first polynucleotide region closest to the 3' end of said second polynucleotide region.

The 3'-untranslated region typically extends from the termination codon for a translation product to the poly (A) sequence which is usually attached after the transcription process. The 3'-untranslated regions of mammalian mRNA typically have a homology region known as the AAUAAA hexanucleotide sequence. This sequence is presumably the poly(A) attachment signal and is frequently located from 10 to 30 bases upstream of the poly (A) attachment site.

3'-untranslated regions may contain one or more inverted repeats which can fold to give stem-loop structures which act as barriers for exoribonucleases or interact with proteins known to increase RNA stability (e.g. RNA-binding proteins).

5'- and/or 3'-untranslated regions may, according to the invention, be functionally linked to a transcribable and in particular coding nucleic acid, so as for these regions to be associated with the nucleic acid in such a way that the stability and/or translation efficiency of the RNA transcribed from said transcribable nucleic acid are increased.

The 3'-untranslated regions of immunoglobulin mRNAs are relatively short (fewer than about 300 nucleotides), while the 3'-untranslated regions of other genes are relatively long. For example, the 3'-untranslated region of tPA is about 800 nucleotides in length, that of factor VIII is about 1800 nucleotides in length and that of erythropoietin is about 560 nucleotides in length.

It can be determined according to the invention, whether a 3'-untranslated region or a nucleic acid sequence derived therefrom increases the stability and/or translation efficiency of RNA, by incorporating the 3'-untranslated region or the nucleic acid sequence derived therefrom into the 3'-untranslated region of a gene and measuring whether said incorporation increases the amount of protein synthesized.

The above applies accordingly to the case in which according to the invention a nucleic acid comprises two or more 3'-untranslated regions which are preferably coupled sequentially with or without a linker inbetween, preferably in a "head-to-tail relationship" (i.e. the 3'-untranslated regions have the same orientation, preferably the orientation naturally occurring in a nucleic acid).

According to the invention, the term "gene" refers to a particular nucleic acid sequence which is responsible for producing one or more cellular products and/or for achieving one or more intercellular or intracellular functions. More specifically, said term relates to a DNA section which comprises a nucleic acid coding for a specific protein or a functional or structural RNA molecule.

Polyadenylation is the addition of a poly (A) sequence or tail to a primary transcript RNA. The poly (A) sequence consists of multiple adenosine monophosphates. In other words, it is a stretch of RNA that has only adenine bases. In eukaryotes, polyadenylation is part of the process that produces mature messenger RNA (mRNA) for translation. It, therefore, forms part of the larger process of gene expression. The process of polyadenylation begins as the transcription of a gene finishes, or terminates. The 3'-most segment of the newly made pre-mRNA is first cleaved off by a set of proteins; these proteins then synthesize the poly (A) sequence at the RNA's 3' end. The poly (A) sequence is important for the nuclear export, translation, and stability of mRNA. The sequence is shortened over time, and, when it is short enough, the mRNA is enzymatically degraded.

The terms "polyadenyl sequence", "poly(A) sequence" or "poly(A) tail" refer to a sequence of adenyl residues which is typically located at the 3' end of an RNA molecule. The invention provides for such a sequence to be attached during RNA transcription by way of a DNA template on the basis of repeated thymidyl residues in the strand complementary to the coding strand, whereas said sequence is normally not encoded in the DNA but is attached to the free 3' end of the RNA by a template-independent RNA polymerase after transcription in the nucleus. According to the invention, in one embodiment, a poly (A) sequence has at least 20, preferably at least 40, preferably at least 80, preferably at least 100 and preferably up to 500, preferably up to 400, preferably up to 300, preferably up to 200, and in particular up to 150, A nucleotides, preferably consecutive A nucleotides, and in particular about 120 A nucleotides. The term "A nucleotides" or "A" refers to adenyl residues.

In a preferred embodiment, a nucleic acid molecule according to the invention is a vector. The term "vector" is used here in its most general meaning and comprises any intermediate vehicles for a nucleic acid which, for example, enable said nucleic acid to be introduced into prokaryotic and/or eukaryotic host cells and, where appropriate, to be integrated into a genome. Such vectors are preferably replicated and/or expressed in the cell. Vectors comprise plasmids, phagemids or virus genomes. The term "plasmid", as used herein, generally relates to a construct of extrachromosomal genetic material, usually a circular DNA duplex, which can replicate independently of chromosomal DNA.

The nucleic acids described herein may be recombinant and/or isolated molecules.

An "isolated molecule" as used herein, is intended to refer to a molecule which is substantially free of other molecules such as other cellular material. The term "isolated nucleic acid" means according to the invention that the nucleic acid has been (i) amplified in vitro, for example by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), (ii) recombinantly produced by cloning, (iii) purified, for example by cleavage and gel-electrophoretic fractionation, or (iv) synthesized, for example by chemical synthesis. An isolated nucleic acid is a nucleic acid available to manipulation by recombinant DNA techniques.

The term "recombinant" in the context of the present invention means "made through genetic engineering". Preferably, a "recombinant object" such as a recombinant cell in the context of the present invention is not occurring naturally.

The term "naturally occurring" as used herein refers to the fact that an object can be found in nature. For example, a peptide or nucleic acid that is present in an organism (including viruses) and can be isolated from a source in nature and which has not been intentionally modified by man in the laboratory is naturally occurring.

According to the invention, the term "host cell" refers to any cell which can be transformed or transfected with an exogenous nucleic acid. The term "host cell" comprises, according to the invention, prokaryotic (e.g. E.coli) or eukaryotic cells (e.g. yeast cells and insect cells) . Particular preference is given to mammalian cells such as cells from humans, mice, hamsters, pigs, goats, primates. The cells may be derived from a multiplicity of tissue types and comprise primary cells and cell lines. Specific examples include keratinocytes, peripheral blood leukocytes, bone marrow stem cells and embryonic stem cells. In other embodiments, the host cell is an antigen-presenting cell, in particular a dendritic cell, a monocyte or a macrophage. A nucleic acid may be present in the host cell in a single or in several copies and, in one embodiment is expressed in the host cell.

E.coli is a gram-negative, facultatively anaerobic, rod-shaped bacterium of the genus Escherichia that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. The bacterium can be grown easily and inexpensively in a laboratory setting, and has been intensively investigated for over 60 years. E.coli is the most widely studied prokaryotic model organism, and an important species in the fields of biotechnology and microbiology, where it has served as the host organism for the majority of work with recombinant DNA. E.coli strains according to the invention include: AG1, AB1157, B2155, BL21, BNN93, BNN97, BW26434, C600, CSH50, D1210, DB3.1, DH1, DH5α, DH10B, DH12S, DM1, E. cloni(r), E.coli K12 ER2738, ER2566, ER2267, HB101, IJ1126, IJ1127, JM83, JM101, JM103, JM105, JM106, JM107, JM108, JM109, JM110, JM2.300, LE392, Machl, MC1061, MC4100, MFDpir, MG1655, OmniMAX2, RR1, RV308, SOLR, SS320, STBL2, STBL3, STBL4, SURE, SURE2, TG1, TOP10, Top10F', W3110, WM3064, XL1-Blue, XL2-Blue, XL1-Red and XL10-Gold.

According to the present invention, the term "peptide" comprises oligo- and polypeptides and refers to substances which comprise two or more, preferably 3 or more, preferably 4 or more, preferably 6 or more, preferably 8 or more, preferably 10 or more, preferably 13 or more, preferably 16 or more, preferably 20 or more, and up to preferably 50, preferably 100 or preferably 150, consecutive amino acids linked to one another via peptide bonds. The term "protein" refers to large peptides, preferably peptides having at least 151 amino acids, but the terms "peptide" and "protein" are used herein usually as synonyms.

The terms "peptide" and "protein" comprise according to the invention substances which contain not only amino acid components but also non-amino acid components such as sugars and phosphate structures, and also comprise substances containing bonds such as ester, thioether or disulfide bonds.

According to the present invention, a nucleic acid such as RNA may encode a peptide or protein. Accordingly, a transcribable nucleic acid sequence or a transcript thereof may contain an open reading frame (ORF) encoding a peptide or protein. Said nucleic may express the encoded peptide or protein. For example, said nucleic acid may be a nucleic acid encoding and expressing an antigen or a pharmaceutically active peptide or protein such as an immunologically active compound (which preferably is not an antigen).

According to the invention, the term "nucleic acid encoding a peptide or protein" means that the nucleic acid, if present in the appropriate environment, preferably within a cell, can direct the assembly of amino acids to produce the peptide or protein during the process of translation. Preferably, RNA according to the invention is able to interact with the cellular translation machinery allowing translation of the peptide or protein.

According to the invention, in one embodiment, RNA comprises or consists of pharmaceutically active RNA. A "pharmaceutically active RNA" may be RNA that encodes a pharmaceutically active peptide or protein.

A "pharmaceutically active peptide or protein" has a positive or advantageous effect on the condition or disease state of a subject when administered to the subject in a therapeutically effective amount. Preferably, a pharmaceutically active peptide or protein has curative or palliative properties and may be administered to ameliorate, relieve, alleviate, reverse, delay onset of or lessen the severity of one or more symptoms of a disease or disorder. A pharmaceutically active peptide or protein may have prophylactic properties and may be used to delay the onset of a disease or to lessen the severity of such disease or pathological condition. The term "pharmaceutically active peptide or protein" includes entire proteins or polypeptides, and can also refer to pharmaceutically active fragments thereof. It can also include pharmaceutically active analogs of a peptide or protein. The term "pharmaceutically active peptide or protein" includes peptides and proteins that are antigens, i.e., the peptide or protein elicits an immune response in a subject which may be therapeutic or partially or fully protective.

Examples of pharmaceutically active proteins include, but are not limited to, cytokines and immune system proteins such as immunologically active compounds (e.g., interleukins, colony stimulating factor (CSF), granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), erythropoietin, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interferons, integrins, addressins, seletins, homing receptors, T cell receptors, immunoglobulins, soluble major histocompatibility complex antigens, immunologically active antigens such as bacterial, parasitic, or viral antigens, allergens, autoantigens, antibodies), hormones (insulin, thyroid hormone, catecholamines, gonadotrophines, trophic hormones, prolactin, oxytocin, dopamine, bovine somatotropin, leptins and the like), growth hormones (e.g., human grown hormone), growth factors (e.g., epidermal growth factor, nerve growth factor, insulin-like growth factor and the like), growth factor receptors, enzymes (tissue plasminogen activator, streptokinase, cholesterol biosynthetic or degradative, steriodogenic enzymes, kinases, phosphodiesterases, methylases, de-methylases, dehydrogenases, cellulases, proteases, lipases, phospholipases, aromatases, cytochromes, adenylate or guanylaste cyclases, neuramidases and the like), receptors (steroid hormone receptors, peptide receptors), binding proteins (growth hormone or growth factor binding proteins and the like), transcription and translation factors, tumor growth suppressing proteins (e.g., proteins which inhibit angiogenesis), structural proteins (such as collagen, fibroin, fibrinogen, elastin, tubulin, actin, and myosin), blood proteins (thrombin, serum albumin, Factor VII, Factor VIII, insulin, Factor IX, Factor X, tissue plasminogen activator, protein C, von Wilebrand factor, antithrombin III, glucocerebrosidase, erythropoietin granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF) or modified Factor VIII, anticoagulants and the like.

In one embodiment, the pharmaceutically active protein according to the invention is a cytokine which is involved in regulating lymphoid homeostasis, preferably a cytokine which is involved in and preferably induces or enhances development, priming, expansion, differentiation and/or survival of T cells. In one embodiment, the cytokine is an interleukin. In one embodiment, the pharmaceutically active protein according to the invention is an interleukin selected from the group consisting of IL-2, IL-7, IL-12, IL-15, and IL-21.

The term "immunologically active compound" relates to any compound altering an immune response, preferably by inducing and/or suppressing maturation of immune cells, inducing and/or suppressing cytokine biosynthesis, and/or altering humoral immunity by stimulating antibody production by B cells. Immunologically active compounds possess potent immunostimulating activity including, but not limited to, antiviral and antitumor activity, and can also down-regulate other aspects of the immune response, for example shifting the immune response away from a TH2 immune response, which is useful for treating a wide range of TH2 mediated diseases. Immunologically active compounds can be useful as vaccine adjuvants.

If, according to the present invention, it is desired to induce or enhance an immune response by using RNA as described herein, the immune response may be triggered or enhanced by the RNA. For example, proteins or peptides encoded by the RNAs or procession products thereof may be presented by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins expressed on antigen presenting cells. The MHC peptide complex can then be recognized by immune cells such as T cells leading to their activation.

In one embodiment, RNA that codes for an antigen such a disease-associated antigen is administered to a mammal, in particular if treating a mammal having a disease involving the antigen is desired. The RNA is taken up into the mammal's antigen-presenting cells (monocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells or other cells). An antigenic translation product of the RNA is formed and the product is displayed on the surface of the cells for recognition by T cells. In one embodiment, the antigen is displayed on the cell surface for recognition by CAR-engineered T cells directed to the antigen. In one embodiment, the antigen or a product produced by optional procession thereof is displayed on the cell surface in the context of MHC molecules for recognition by T cells through their T cell receptor.

Alternatively, the present invention envisions embodiments wherein RNA expressing an antigen is introduced into antigen-presenting cells ex vivo, e.g. antigen-presenting cells taken from a patient, and the antigen-presenting cells, optionally clonally propagated ex vivo, are transplanted back into the same patient. Transfected cells may be reintroduced into the patient using any means known in the art, preferably in sterile form by intravenous, intracavitary, intraperitoneal or intratumor administration.

The methods of the invention may involve an antigen presenting cell for expressing the RNA encoding the antigen. To this end, the methods of the invention may involve introduction of RNA encoding antigens into antigen presenting cells such as dendritic cells. For transfection of antigen presenting cells such as dendritic cells a pharmaceutical composition comprising RNA encoding the antigen may be used. A delivery vehicle that targets the RNA to a dendritic or other antigen presenting cell may be administered to a patient, resulting in transfection that occurs in vivo.

According to the invention it is preferred to use formulations of the RNA encoding an antigen which deliver the RNA with high selectivity to antigen presenting cells such as dendrite cells (DCs) in the spleen after systemic administration. For example, nanoparticulate RNA formulations with defined particle size wherein the net charge of the particles is close to zero or negative, such as electro-neutral or negatively charged lipoplexes from RNA and liposomes, e.g. lipoplexes comprising DOTMA and DOPE or DOTMA and Cholesterol, lead to substantial RNA expression in spleen DCs after systemic administration. A strong expression in the target cells (spleen) was determined while the expression in other organs was low.

As used herein, the term "nanoparticle" refers to any particle having a diameter making the particle suitable for systemic, in particular parenteral, administration, of, in particular, nucleic acids, typically a diameter of less than 1000 nanometers (nm). In some embodiments, a nanoparticle has a diameter of less than 600 nm. In some embodiments, a nanoparticle has a diameter of less than 400 nm.

As used herein, the term "nanoparticulate formulation" or similar terms refer to any substance that contains at least one nanoparticle. In some embodiments, a nanoparticulate composition is a uniform collection of nanoparticles . In some embodiments, nanoparticulate compositions are dispersions or emulsions. In general, a dispersion or emulsion is formed when at least two immiscible materials are combined.

The term, "lipoplex" or "nucleic acid lipoplex", in particular "RNA lipoplex", refers to a complex of lipids and nucleic acids, in particular RNA. Lipoplexes are formed spontaneously when cationic liposomes, which often also include a neutral "helper" lipid, are mixed with nucleic acids.

If the present invention refers to a charge such as a positive charge, negative charge or neutral charge or a cationic compound, negative compound or neutral compound this generally means that the charge mentioned is present at a selected pH, such as a physiological pH. For example, the term "cationic lipid" means a lipid having a net positive charge at a selected pH, such as a physiological pH. The term "neutral lipid" means a lipid having no net positive or negative charge and can be present in the form of a non-charged or a neutral amphoteric ion at a selected pH, such as a physiological pH. By "physiological pH" herein is meant a pH of about 7.5.

The nanoparticulate carriers such as lipid carriers contemplated for use in the present invention include any substances or vehicles with which nucleic acid such as RNA can be associated, e.g. by forming complexes with the nucleic acid or forming vesicles in which the nucleic acid is enclosed or encapsulated. This may result in increased stability of the nucleic acid compared to naked nucleic acid. In particular, stability of the nucleic acid in blood may be increased.

Cationic lipids, cationic polymers and other substances with positive charges may form complexes with negatively charged nucleic acids. These cationic molecules can be used to complex nucleic acids, thereby forming e.g. so-called lipoplexes or polyplexes, respectively, and these complexes have been shown to deliver nucleic acids into cells.

Nanoparticulate nucleic acid preparations for use in the present invention can be obtained by various protocols and from various nucleic acid complexing compounds. Lipids, polymers, oligomers, or amphipiles are typical complexing agents. In one embodiment, the complexing compound comprises at least one agent selected from the group consisting protamine, polyethyleneimine, a poly-L-lysine, a poly-L-arginine or a histone.

According to the invention, protamine is useful as cationic carrier agent. The term "protamine" refers to any of various strongly basic proteins of relatively low molecular weight that are rich in arginine and are found associated especially with DNA in place of somatic histones in the sperm cells of various animals (as fish). In particular, the term "protamine" refers to proteins found in fish sperm that are strongly basic, are soluble in water, are not coagulated by heat, and yield chiefly arginine upon hydrolysis. In purified form, they are used in a long-acting formulation of insulin and to neutralize the anticoagulant effects of heparin.

According to the invention, the term "protamine" as used herein is meant to comprise any protamine amino acid sequence obtained or derived from native or biological sources including fragments thereof and multimeric forms of said amino acid sequence or fragment thereof. Furthermore, the term encompasses (synthesized) polypeptides which are artificial and specifically designed for specific purposes and cannot be isolated from native or biological sources.

The protamine used according to the present invention can be sulfated protamine or hydrochloride protamine. In a preferred embodiment, the protamine source used for the production of the nanoparticles described herein is protamine 5000 which contains protamine at more than 10 mg/ml (5000 heparin-neutralizing units per ml) in an isotonic salt solution.

Liposomes are microscopic lipidic vesicles often having one or more bilayers of a vesicle-forming lipid, such as a phospholipid, and are capable of encapsulating a drug. Different types of liposomes may be employed in the context of the present invention, including, without being limited thereto, multilamellar vesicles (MLV), small unilamellar vesicles (SUV), large unilamellar vesicles (LUV), sterically stabilized liposomes (SSL), multivesicular vesicles (MV), and large multivesicular vesicles (LMV) as well as other bilayered forms known in the art. The size and lamellarity of the liposome will depend on the manner of preparation and the selection of the type of vesicles to be used will depend on the preferred mode of administration. There are several other forms of supramolecular organization in which lipids may be present in an aqueous medium, comprising lamellar phases, hexagonal and inverse hexagonal phases, cubic phases, micelles, reverse micelles composed of monolayers. These phases may also be obtained in the combination with DNA or RNA, and the interaction with RNA and DNA may substantially affect the phase state. The described phases may be present in the nanoparticulate nucleic acid formulations of the present invention.

For formation of nucleic acid lipoplexes from nucleic acid and liposomes, any suitable method of forming liposomes can be used so long as it provides the envisaged nucleic acid lipoplexes. Liposomes may be formed using standard methods such as the reverse evaporation method (REV), the ethanol injection method, the dehydration-rehydration method (DRV), sonication or other suitable methods.

After liposome formation, the liposomes can be sized to obtain a population of liposomes having a substantially homogeneous size range.

Bilayer-forming lipids have typically two hydrocarbon chains, particularly acyl chains, and a head group, either polar or nonpolar. Bilayer-forming lipids are either composed of naturally-occurring lipids or of synthetic origin, including the phospholipids, such as phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatide acid, phosphatidylinositol, and sphingomyelin, where the two hydrocarbon chains are typically between about 14-22 carbon atoms in length, and have varying degrees of unsaturation. Other suitable lipids for use in the composition of the present invention include glycolipids and sterols such as cholesterol and its various analogs which can also be used in the liposomes.

Cationic lipids typically have a lipophilic moiety, such as a sterol, an acyl or diacyl chain, and have an overall net positive charge. The head group of the lipid typically carries the positive charge. The cationic lipid preferably has a positive charge of 1 to 10 valences, more preferably a positive charge of 1 to 3 valences, and more preferably a positive charge of 1 valence. Examples of cationic lipids include, but are not limited to 1,2-di-0-octadecenyl-3-trimethylammonium propane (DOTMA); dimethyldioctadecylammonium (DDAB); 1,2-dioleoyl-3-trimethylammonium-propane (DOTAP); 1,2- dioleoyl-3-dimethylammonium-propane (DODAP); 1,2-diacyloxy-3-dimethylammonium propanes; 1,2-dialkyloxy-3-dimethylammonium propanes; dioctadecyldimethyl ammonium chloride (DODAC), 1,2-dimyristoyloxypropyl-1,3-dimethylhydroxyethyl ammonium (DMRIE), and 2,3-dioleoyloxy-N-[2(spermine carboxamide)ethyl]-N,N-dimethyl-1-propanamium trifluoroacetate (DOSPA).

Preferred are DOTMA, DOTAP, DODAC, and DOSPA. Most preferred is DOTMA.

In addition, the nanoparticles described herein preferably further include a neutral lipid in view of structural stability and the like. The neutral lipid can be appropriately selected in view of the delivery efficiency of the nucleic acid-lipid complex. Examples of neutral lipids include, but are not limited to, 1,2-di-(9Z-octadecenoyl)-sn-glycero-3 -phosphoethanolamine (DOPE), 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine

(DOPC), diacylphosphatidyl choline, diacylphosphatidyl ethanol amine, ceramide, sphingoemyelin, cephalin, sterol, and cerebroside. Preferred is DOPE and/or DOPC. Most preferred is DOPE. In the case where a cationic liposome includes both a cationic lipid and a neutral lipid, the molar ratio of the cationic lipid to the neutral lipid can be appropriately determined in view of stability of the liposome and the like.

According to one embodiment, the nanoparticles described herein may comprise phospholipids. The phospholipids may be a glycerophospholipid. Examples of glycerophospholipid include, without being limited thereto, three types of lipids: (i) zwitterionic phospholipids, which include, for example, phosphatidylcholine (PC), egg yolk phosphatidylcholine, soybean-derived PC in natural, partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated form, dimyristoyl phosphatidylcholine (DMPC) sphingomyelin (SM); (ii) negatively charged phospholipids: which include, for example, phosphatidylserine (PS), phosphatidylinositol (PI), phosphatidic acid (PA), phosphatidylglycerol (PG) dipalmipoyl PG, dimyristoyl phosphatidylglycerol (DMPG); synthetic derivatives in which the conjugate renders a zwitterionic phospholipid negatively charged such is the case of methoxy-polyethylene,glycol-distearoyl phosphatidylethanolamine (mPEG-DSPE); and (iii) cationic phospholipids, which include, for example, phosphatidylcholine or sphingomyelin of which the phosphomonoester was O-methylated to form the cationic lipids.

Association of nucleic acid to the lipid carrier can occur, for example, by the nucleic acid filling interstitial spaces of the carrier, such that the carrier physically entraps the nucleic acid, or by covalent, ionic, or hydrogen bonding, or by means of adsorption by non-specific bonds. Whatever the mode of association, the nucleic acid must retain its therapeutic, i.e. antigen-encoding, properties.

The term "disease" refers to an abnormal condition that affects the body of an individual. A disease is often construed as a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. A disease may be caused by factors originally from an external source, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune diseases.

According to the invention, the term "disease" also refers to cancer diseases. The terms "cancer disease" or "cancer" (medical term: malignant neoplasm) refer to a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth (division beyond the normal limits), invasion (intrusion on and destruction of adjacent tissues), and sometimes metastasis (spread to other locations in the body via lymph or blood). These three malignant properties of cancers differentiate them from benign tumors, which are self-limited, and do not invade or metastasize. Most cancers form a tumor, i.e. a swelling or lesion formed by an abnormal growth of cells (called neoplastic cells or tumor cells), but some, like leukemia, do not. Examples of cancers include, but are not limited to, carcinoma, lymphoma, blastoma, sarcoma, glioma and leukemia. More particularly, examples of such cancers include bone cancer, blood cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, cancer of the head or neck, cutaneous or intraocular malignant melanoma, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, rectal cancer, cancer of the anal region, stomach cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, uterine cancer, carcinoma of the sexual and reproductive organs, Hodgkin's disease, cancer of the esophagus, cancer of the small intestine, cancer of the endocrine system, cancer of the thyroid gland, cancer of the parathyroid gland, cancer of the adrenal gland, sarcoma of soft tissue, cancer of the bladder, cancer of the kidney, renal cell carcinoma, carcinoma of the renal pelvis, neoplasms of the central nervous system (CNS), neuroectodermal cancer, spinal axis tumors, glioma, meningioma, and pituitary adenoma. The term "cancer" according to the invention also comprises cancer metastases .

The term "infectious disease" refers to any disease which can be transmitted from individual to individual or from organism to organism, and is caused by a microbial agent (e.g. common cold). Examples of infectious diseases include viral infectious diseases, such as AIDS (HIV), hepatitis A, B or C, herpes, herpes zoster (chicken-pox), German measles (rubella virus), yellow fever, dengue etc. flaviviruses, influenza viruses, hemorrhagic infectious diseases (Marburg or Ebola viruses), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), bacterial infectious diseases, such as Legionnaire's disease (Legionella), sexually transmitted diseases (e.g. chlamydia or gonorrhea), gastric ulcer (Helicobacter), cholera (Vibrio), tuberculosis, diphtheria, infections by E.coli, Staphylococci, Salmonella or Streptococci (tetanus); infections by protozoan pathogens such as malaria, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis; toxoplasmosis, i.e. infections by Plasmodium, Trypanosoma, Leishmania and

Toxoplasma; or fungal infections, which are caused e.g. by Cryptococcus neoformans, Histoplasma capsulatum, Coccidioides immitis, Blastomyces dermatitidis or Candida albicans.

The term "autoimmune disease" refers to any disease in which the body produces an immunogenic (i.e. immune system) response to some constituent of its own tissue. In other words, the immune system loses its ability to recognize some tissue or system within the body as self and targets and attacks it as if it were foreign. Autoimmune diseases can be classified into those in which predominantly one organ is affected (e.g. hemolytic anemia and anti-immune thyroiditis), and those in which the autoimmune disease process is diffused through many tissues (e.g. systemic lupus erythematosus) . For example, multiple sclerosis is thought to be caused by T cells attacking the sheaths that surround the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord. This results in loss of coordination, weakness, and blurred vision. Autoimmune diseases are known in the art and include, for instance, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Grave's disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatic arthritis, hemolytic anemia, anti-immune thyroiditis, systemic lupus erythematosus, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, colitis, diabetes, scleroderma, psoriasis, and the like.

According to the invention, an immune response may be stimulated by introducing into a subject a suitable mRNA which codes for an antigen or a fragment thereof, e.g., a disease-associated antigen.

The term "antigen" relates to an agent comprising an epitope against which an immune response is to be generated. The term "antigen" includes in particular proteins, peptides, polysaccharides, nucleic acids, especially RNA and DNA, and nucleotides. The term "antigen" also includes agents, which become antigenic - and sensitizing - only through transformation (e.g. intermediately in the molecule or by completion with body protein). An antigen is preferably presentable by cells of the immune system such as antigen presenting cells like dendritic cells or macrophages. In addition, an antigen or a processing product thereof is preferably recognizable by a T or B cell receptor, or by an immunoglobulin molecule such as an antibody. In a preferred embodiment, the antigen is a disease- associated antigen, such as a tumor-associated antigen, a viral antigen, or a bacterial antigen.

The term "disease-associated antigen" is used in it broadest sense to refer to any antigen associated with a disease. A disease-associated antigen is a molecule which contains epitopes that will stimulate a host's immune system to make a cellular antigen-specific immune response and/or a humoral antibody response against the disease. The disease-associated antigen may therefore be used for therapeutic purposes. Disease-associated antigens are preferably associated with infection by microbes, typically microbial antigens, or associated with cancer, typically tumors.

The term "disease involving an antigen" refers to any disease which implicates an antigen, e.g. a disease which is characterized by the presence and/or expression of an antigen. The disease involving an antigen can be an infectious disease, an autoimmune disease, or a cancer disease or simply cancer. As mentioned above, the antigen may be a disease-associated antigen, such as a tumor-associated antigen, a viral antigen, or a bacterial antigen.

In one embodiment, a disease-associated antigen is a tumor-associated antigen. In this embodiment, the present invention may be useful in treating cancer or cancer metastasis. Preferably, the diseased organ or tissue is characterized by diseased cells such as cancer cells expressing a disease-associated antigen and/or being characterized by association of a disease-associated antigen with their surface. Immunization with intact or substantially intact tumor-associated antigens or fragments thereof such as MHC class I and class II peptides or nucleic acids, in particular mRNA, encoding such antigen or fragment makes it possible to elicit a MHC class I and/or a class II type response and, thus, stimulate T cells such as CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes which are capable of lysing cancer cells and/or CD4+ T cells. Such immunization may also elicit a humoral immune response (B cell response) resulting in the production of antibodies against the tumor-associated antigen. Furthermore, antigen presenting cells (APC) such as dendritic cells (DCs) can be loaded with MHC class I-presented peptides by transfection with nucleic acids encoding tumor antigens in vitro and administered to a patient. In one embodiment, the term "tumor-associated antigen" refers to a constituent of cancer cells which may be derived from the cytoplasm, the cell surface and the cell nucleus. In particular, it refers to those antigens which are produced, preferably in large quantity, intracellularly or as surface antigens on tumor cells. Examples for tumor antigens include HER2, EGFR, VEGF, CAMPATH1-antigen, CD22, CA-125, HLA-DR, Hodgkin-lymphoma or mucin-1, but are not limited thereto.

According to the present invention, a tumor-associated antigen preferably comprises any antigen which is characteristic for tumors or cancers as well as for tumor or cancer cells with respect to type and/or expression level. In one embodiment, the term "tumor-associated antigen" relates to proteins that are under normal conditions, i.e. in a healthy subject, specifically expressed in a limited number of organs and/or tissues or in specific developmental stages, for example, the tumor-associated antigen may be under normal conditions specifically expressed in stomach tissue, preferably in the gastric mucosa, in reproductive organs, e.g., in testis, in trophoblastic tissue, e.g., in placenta, or in germ line cells, and are expressed or aberrantly expressed in one or more tumor or cancer tissues. In this context, "a limited number" preferably means not more than 3, more preferably not more than 2 or 1. The tumor-associated antigens in the context of the present invention include, for example, differentiation antigens, preferably cell type specific differentiation antigens, i.e., proteins that are under normal conditions specifically expressed in a certain cell type at a certain differentiation stage, cancer/testis antigens, i.e., proteins that are under normal conditions specifically expressed in testis and sometimes in placenta, and germ line specific antigens. In the context of the present invention, the tumor-associated antigen is preferably not or only rarely expressed in normal tissues or is mutated in tumor cells. Preferably, the tumor-associated antigen or the aberrant expression of the tumor-associated antigen identifies cancer cells. In the context of the present invention, the tumor-associated antigen that is expressed by a cancer cell in a subject, e.g., a patient suffering from a cancer disease, is preferably a self-protein in said subject. In preferred embodiments, the tumor-associated antigen in the context of the present invention is expressed under normal conditions specifically in a tissue or organ that is non-essential, i.e., tissues or organs which when damaged by the immune system do not lead to death of the subject, or in organs or structures of the body which are not or only hardly accessible by the immune system. Preferably, a tumor-associated antigen is presented in the context of MHC molecules by a cancer cell in which it is expressed.

Examples for differentiation antigens which ideally fulfill the criteria for tumor-associated antigens as contemplated by the present invention as target structures in tumor immunotherapy, in particular, in tumor vaccination are the cell surface proteins of the Claudin family, such as CLDN6 and CLDN18.2. These differentiation antigens are expressed in tumors of various origins, and are particularly suited as target structures in connection with antibody-mediated cancer immunotherapy due to their selective expression (no expression in a toxicity relevant normal tissue) and localization to the plasma membrane.

Further examples for antigens that may be useful in the present invention are p53, ART-4, BAGE, beta-catenin/m, Bcr-abL CAMEL, CAP-1, CASP-8, CDC27/m, CDK4/m, CEA, CLAUDIN-12, c-MYC, CT, Cyp-B, DAM, ELF2M, ETV6-AML1, G250, GAGE, GnT-V, GaplOO, HAGE, HER-2/neu, HPV-E7, HPV-E6, HAST-2, hTERT (or hTRT), LAGE, LDLR/FUT, MAGE-A, preferably MAGE-A1, MAGE-A2, MAGE-A3, MAGE-A4, MAGE-A5, MAGE-A6, MAGE-A7, MAGE-A8, MAGE-A9, MAGE-A10, MAGE-All, or MAGE-A12, MAGE-B, MAGE-C, MART-1/Melan-A, MC1R, Myosin/m, MUC1, MUM-1, -2, -3, NA88-A, NF1, NY-ESO-1, NY-BR-1, p190 minor BCR-abL, Pml/RARa, PRAME, proteinase 3, PSA, PSM, RAGE, RU1 or RU2, SAGE, SART-1 or SART-3, SCGB3A2, SCP1, SCP2, SCP3, SSX, SURVIVIN, TEL/AML1, TPI/m, TRP-1, TRP-2, TRP-2/INT2, TPTE and WT, preferably WT-1.

The term "viral antigen" refers to any viral component having antigenic properties, i.e. being able to provoke an immune response in an individual. The viral antigen may be a viral ribonucleoprotein or an envelope protein.

The term "bacterial antigen" refers to any bacterial component having antigenic properties, i.e. being able to provoke an immune response in an individual. The bacterial antigen may be derived from the cell wall or cytoplasm membrane of the bacterium.

"Antigen processing" refers to the degradation of an antigen into procession products, which are fragments of said antigen (e.g., the degradation of a protein into peptides) and the association of one or more of these fragments (e.g., via binding) with MHC molecules for presentation by cells, preferably antigen presenting cells to specific T cells.

The term "immune response", as used herein, relates to a reaction of the immune system such as to immunogenic organisms, such as bacteria or viruses, cells or substances. The term "immune response" includes the innate immune response and the adaptive immune response. Preferably, the immune response is related to an activation of immune cells, an induction of cytokine biosynthesis and/or antibody production. It is preferred that the immune response comprises the steps of activation of antigen presenting cells, such as dendritic cells and/or macrophages, presentation of an antigen or fragment thereof by said antigen presenting cells and activation of cytotoxic T cells due to this presentation.

The term "treat" or "treatment" relates to any treatment which improves the health status and/or prolongs (increases) the lifespan of an individual. Said treatment may eliminate the disease in an individual, arrest or slow the development of a disease in an individual, inhibit or slow the development of a disease in an individual, decrease the frequency or severity of symptoms in an individual, and/or decrease the recurrence in an individual who currently has or who previously has had a disease.

In particular, the term "treatment of a disease" includes curing, shortening the duration, ameliorating, slowing down or inhibiting progression or worsening of a disease or the symptoms thereof.

The term "immunotherapy" relates to a treatment preferably involving a specific immune reaction and/or immune effector function (s).

The term "immunization" or "vaccination" describes the process of treating a subject for therapeutic or prophylactic reasons.

The term "subject" or "individual", as used herein, preferably relates to mammals. For example, mammals in the context of the present invention are humans, non-human primates, domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, horses etc., laboratory animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. as well as animals in captivity, such as animals of zoos. In a preferred embodiment, the subject is a human.

The term "antigen presenting cell" (APC) relates to a cell of a variety of cells capable of displaying, acquiring, and/or presenting at least one antigen or antigenic fragment on (or at) its cell surface. Antigen-presenting cells can be distinguished in professional antigen presenting cells and non-professional antigen presenting cells.

The term "professional antigen presenting cells" relates to antigen presenting cells which constitutively express the Major Histocompatibility Complex class II (MHC class II) molecules required for interaction with naive T cells. If a T cell interacts with the MHC class II molecule complex on the membrane of the antigen presenting cell, the antigen presenting cell produces a co-stimulatory molecule inducing activation of the T cell. Professional antigen presenting cells comprise dendritic cells and macrophages.

The term "non-professional antigen presenting cells" relates to antigen presenting cells which do not constitutively express MHC class II molecules, but upon stimulation by certain cytokines such as interferon-gamma. Exemplary, non-professional antigen presenting cells include fibroblasts, thymic epithelial cells, thyroid epithelial cells, glial cells, pancreatic beta cells or vascular endothelial cells.

The term "major histocompatibility complex" and the abbreviation "MHC" include MHC class I and MHC class II molecules and relate to a complex of genes which occurs in all vertebrates. MHC proteins or molecules are important for signaling between lymphocytes and antigen presenting cells or diseased cells in immune reactions, wherein the MHC proteins or molecules bind peptides and present them for recognition by T cell receptors. The proteins encoded by the MHC are expressed on the surface of cells, and display both self antigens (peptide fragments from the cell itself) and nonself antigens (e.g., fragments of invading microorganisms) to a T cell.

According to the invention the term "chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) " is synonymous with the terms "chimeric T cell receptor" and "artificial T cell receptor".

These terms relate to engineered receptors, which confer an arbitrary specificity such as the specificity of a monoclonal antibody onto an immune effector cell such as a T cell. In this way, a large number of cancer-specific T cells can be generated for adoptive cell transfer. Thus, a CAR may be present on T cells, e.g. instead of or in addition to the T cell's own T cell receptor. Such T cells do not necessarily require processing and presentation of an antigen for recognition of the target cell but rather may recognize preferably with specificity any antigen present on a target cell. Preferably, said CAR is expressed on the surface of the cells. For the purpose of the present invention T cells comprising a CAR are comprised by the term "T cell" as used herein.

According to the invention, the term "CAR" (or "chimeric antigen receptor") relates to an artificial receptor comprising a single molecule or a complex of molecules which recognizes, i.e. binds to, a target structure (e.g. an antigen) on a target cell such as a cancer cell (e.g. by binding of an antigen binding domain to an antigen expressed on the surface of the target cell) and may confer specificity onto an immune effector cell such as a T cell expressing said CAR on the cell surface. Preferably, recognition of the target structure by a CAR results in activation of an immune effector cell expressing said CAR. A CAR may comprise one or more protein units said protein units comprising one or more domains as described herein. The term "CAR" does not include T cell receptors.

In one embodiment, a single-chain variable fragment (scFv) derived from a monoclonal antibody is fused to CD3-zeta transmembrane and endodomain. Such molecules result in the transmission of a zeta signal in response to recognition by the scFv of its antigen target on a target cell and killing of the target cell that expresses the target antigen. Antigen recognition domains which also may be used include among others T cell receptor (TCR) alpha and beta single chains. In fact almost anything that binds a given target with high affinity can be used as an antigen recognition domain.

Following antigen recognition, receptors cluster and a signal is transmitted to the cell. In this respect, a "T cell signaling domain" is a domain, preferably an endodomain, which transmits an activation signal to the T cell after antigen is bound. The most commonly used endodomain component is CD3-zeta.

Adoptive cell transfer therapy with CAR-engineered T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors is a promising anti-cancer therapeutic as CAR-modified T cells can be engineered to target virtually any tumor antigen. For example, patient's T cells may be genetically engineered (genetically modified) to express CARs specifically directed towards antigens on the patient's tumor cells, then infused back into the patient.

According to the invention a CAR may replace the function of a T cell receptor and, in particular, may confer reactivity such as cytolytic activity to a cell such as a T cell. However, in contrast to the binding of the T cell receptor to an antigen peptide-MHC complex, a CAR may bind to an antigen, in particular when expressed on the cell surface.

According to the invention, CARs may generally comprise three domains.

The first domain is the binding domain which recognizes and binds antigen.

The second domain is the co-stimulation domain. The co-stimulation domain serves to enhance the proliferation and survival of the cytotoxic lymphocytes upon binding of the CAR to a targeted moiety. The identity of the co-stimulation domain is limited only in that it has the ability to enhance cellular proliferation and survival upon binding of the targeted moiety by the CAR. Suitable co-stimulation domains include CD28, CD137 (4-IBB), a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor family, CD134 (OX40), a member of the TNFR-superfamily of receptors, and CD278 (ICOS), a CD28-superfamily co-stimulatory molecule expressed on activated T cells. The skilled person will understand that sequence variants of these noted co-stimulation domains can be used without adversely impacting the invention, where the variants have the same or similar activity as the domain on which they are modeled. Such variants will have at least about 80% sequence identity to the amino acid sequence of the domain from which they are derived. In some embodiments of the invention, the CAR constructs comprise two co-stimulation domains. While the particular combinations include all possible variations of the four noted domains, specific examples include CD28+CD137 (4-1BB) and CD28+CD134 (OX40).

The third domain is the activation signaling domain (or T cell signaling domain). The activation signaling domain serves to activate cytotoxic lymphocytes upon binding of the CAR to antigen. The identity of the activation signaling domain is limited only in that it has the ability to induce activation of the selected cytotoxic lymphocyte upon binding of the antigen by the CAR. Suitable activation signaling domains include the T cell CD3[zeta] chain and Fc receptor [gamma]. The skilled artisan will understand that sequence variants of these noted activation signaling domains can be used without adversely impacting the invention, where the variants have the same or similar activity as the domain on which they are modeled. Such variants will have at least about 80% sequence identity to the amino acid sequence of the domain from which they are derived.

CARs may comprise the three domains, together in the form of a fusion protein. Such fusion proteins will generally comprise a binding domain, one or more co-stimulation domains, and an activation signaling domain, linked in a N-terminal to C-terminal direction. However, CARs are not limited to this arrangement and other arrangements are acceptable and include a binding domain, an activation signaling domain, and one or more co-stimulation domains. It will be understood that because the binding domain must be free to bind antigen, the placement of the binding domain in the fusion protein will generally be such that display of the region on the exterior of the cell is achieved. In the same manner, because the co-stimulation and activation signaling domains serve to induce activity and proliferation of the cytotoxic lymphocytes, the fusion protein will generally display these two domains in the interior of the cell. The CARs may include additional elements, such as a signal peptide to ensure proper export of the fusion protein to the cells surface, a transmembrane domain to ensure the fusion protein is maintained as an integral membrane protein, and a hinge domain (or spacer region) that imparts flexibility to the binding domain and allows strong binding to antigen.

The cells used in connection with the CAR system of the present invention are preferably T cells, in particular cytotoxic lymphocytes, preferably selected from cytotoxic T cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells. Upon activation, each of these cytotoxic lymphocytes triggers the destruction of target cells. For example, cytotoxic T cells trigger the destruction of target cells by either or both of the following means. First, upon activation T cells release cytotoxins such as perforin, granzymes, and granulysin. Perforin and granulysin create pores in the target cell, and granzymes enter the cell and trigger a caspase cascade in the cytoplasm that induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) of the cell. Second, apoptosis can be induced via Fas-Fas ligand interaction between the T cells and target cells. The cytotoxic lymphocytes will preferably be autologous cells, although heterologous cells or allogenic cells can be used.

A variety of methods may be used to introduce CAR constructs into T cells including non-viral-based DNA transfection, transposon-based systems and viral-based systems. Non-viral-based DNA transfection has low risk of insertional mutagenesis. Transposon-based systems can integrate transgenes more efficiently than plasmids that do not contain an integrating element. Viral-based systems include the use of γ-retroviruses and lentiviral vectors. γ-Retroviruses are relatively easy to produce, efficiently and permanently transduce T cells, and have preliminarily proven safe from an integration standpoint in primary human T cells. Lentiviral vectors also efficiently and permanently transduce T cells but are more expensive to manufacture. They are also potentially safer than retrovirus based systems.

The RNA described herein (e.g. obtained using a nucleic acid molecule described herein as a transcription template) is also useful in reprogramming or de-differentiating somatic cells into stem-like cells, i.e. cells having stem cell characteristics, in vitro or in vivo. This may involve the transient expression of reprogramming factors in vitro or in vivo in order to initiate reprogramming or de-differentiation processes in cells. Thus, in one embodiment, the peptide or protein encoded by a nucleic acid such as RNA described herein is a factor allowing the reprogramming of somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics. Stem-like cells can be provided according to the invention without generating embryos or fetuses. De-differentiation of somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics, in particular pluripotency, can be effected by introducing RNA encoding factors inducing the de-differentiation of somatic cells into the somatic cells (also termed reprogramming transcription factors (rTF)) and culturing the somatic cells allowing the cells to de-differentiate. After being de-differentiated, the cells could be induced to re-differentiate into the same or a different somatic cell type such as neuronal, hematopoietic, muscle, epithelial, and other cell types. Thus, such stem-like cells have medical applications for treatment of degenerative diseases by "cell therapy" and may be utilized in novel therapeutic strategies in the treatment of cardiac, neurological, endocrinological, vascular, retinal, dermatological, muscular-skeletal disorders, and other diseases.

Accordingly, the invention also relates to a method for providing cells having stem cell characteristics comprising the steps of (i) providing a cell population comprising somatic cells, (ii) introducing RNA of the invention capable of expressing one or more factors allowing the reprogramming of the somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics into the somatic cells, and (iii) allowing the development of cells having stem cell characteristics. In one embodiment, the method further comprises introducing into the somatic cells miRNA enhancing reprogramming of the somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics .

In one embodiment, the one or more factors comprise OCT4 and SOX2. The one or more factors may further comprise KLF4 and/or c-MYC and/or NANOG and/or LIN28. In one embodiment, the one or more factors comprise OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and c-MYC and may further comprise LIN28 and optionally NANOG. In one embodiment, the one or more factors comprise OCT4, SOX2, NANOG and LIN28.

In one embodiment, the method further comprises the step of culturing the somatic cells in the presence of at least one histone deacetylase inhibitor, wherein the at least one histone deacetylase inhibitor preferably comprises valproic acid, sodium butyrate, trichostatin A and/or scriptaid.

In one embodiment, step (iii) comprises culturing the somatic cells under embryonic stem cell culture conditions .

In one embodiment, the stem cell characteristics comprise an embryonic stem cell morphology.

In one embodiment, the cells having stem cell characteristics have normal karyotypes, express telomerase activity, express cell surface markers that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells and/or express genes that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells.

In one embodiment, the cells having stem cell characteristics exhibit a pluripotent state.

In one embodiment, the cells having stem cell characteristics have the developmental potential to differentiate into advanced derivatives of all three primary germ layers.

In one embodiment, the somatic cells are fibroblasts such as lung fibroblasts, foreskin fibroblasts or dermal fibroblasts. Preferably, the somatic cells are human cells.

In one embodiment, the RNA is introduced into the somatic cells by electroporation or lipofection. In one embodiment, the RNA is introduced into the somatic cells repetitively.

In one embodiment, introduction of RNA capable of expression certain factors as disclosed herein into somatic cells results in expression of said factors for an extended period of time, preferably for at least 10 days, preferably for at least 11 days and more preferably for at least 12 days. To achieve such long term expression, RNA is preferably periodically (i.e. repetitively) introduced into the cells more than one time, preferably using electroporation. Preferably, RNA is introduced into the cells at least twice, more preferably at least 3 times, more preferably at least 4 times, even more preferably at least 5 times up to preferably 6 times, more preferably up to 7 times or even up to 8, 9 or 10 times, preferably over a time period of at least 10 days, preferably for at least 11 days and more preferably for at least 12 days to ensure expression of one or more factors for an extended period of time. Preferably, the time periods elapsing between the repeated introductions of the RNA are from 24 hours to 120 hours, preferably 48 hours to 96 hours. In one embodiment, time periods elapsing between the repeated introductions of the RNA are not longer than 72 hours, preferably not longer than 48 hours or 36 hours. In one embodiment, prior to the next electroporation, cells are allowed to recover from the previous electroporation. In any case, the conditions should be selected so that the factors are expressed in the cells in amounts and for periods of time which support the reprogramming process.

A "stem cell" is a cell with the ability to self-renew, to remain undifferentiated, and to become differentiated. A stem cell can divide without limit, for at least the lifetime of the animal in which it naturally resides. A stem cell is not terminally differentiated; it is not at the end stage of a differentiation pathway. When a stem cell divides, each daughter cell can either remain a stem cell or embark on a course that leads toward terminal differentiation.

Totipotent stem cells are cells having totipotential differentiation properties and being capable of developing into a complete organism. This property is possessed by cells up to the 8-cell stage after fertilization of the oocyte by the sperm. When these cells are isolated and transplanted into the uterus, they can develop into a complete organism.

Pluripotent stem cells are cells capable of developing into various cells and tissues derived from the ectodermal, mesodermal and endodermal layers. Pluripotent stem cells which are derived from the inner cell mass located inside of blastocysts, generated 4-5 days after fertilization are called "embryonic stem cells" and can differentiate into various other tissue cells but cannot form new living organisms.

Multipotent stem cells are stem cells differentiating normally into only cell types specific to their tissue and organ of origin. Multipotent stem cells are involved not only in the growth and development of various tissues and organs during the fetal, neonatal and adult periods but also in the maintenance of adult tissue homeostasis and the function of inducing regeneration upon tissue damage. Tissue-specific multipotent cells are collectively called "adult stem cells".

An "embryonic stem cell" or "ESC" is a stem cell that is present in or isolated from an embryo. It can be pluripotent, having the capacity to differentiate into each and every cell present in the organism, or multipotent, with the ability to differentiate into more than one cell type.

As used herein, "embryo" refers to an animal in the early stages of it development. These stages are characterized by implantation and gastrulation, where the three germ layers are defined and established and by differentiation of the germs layers into the respective organs and organ systems. The three germ layers are the endoderm, ectoderm and mesoderm.

A "blastocyst" is an embryo at an early stage of development in which the fertilized ovum has undergone cleavage, and a spherical layer of cells surrounding a fluid-filled cavity is forming, or has formed. This spherical layer of cells is the trophectoderm. Inside the trophectoderm is a cluster of cells termed the inner cell mass (ICM). The trophectoderm is the precursor of the placenta, and the ICM is the precursor of the embryo.

An adult stem cell, also called a somatic stem cell, is a stem cell found in an adult. An adult stem cell is found in a differentiated tissue, can renew itself, and can differentiate, with some limitations, to yield specialized cell types of its tissue of origin. Examples include mesenchymal stem cells, hematopoietic stem cells, and neural stem cells.

A "differentiated cell" is a mature cell that has undergone progressive developmental changes to a more specialized form or function. Cell differentiation is the process a cell undergoes as it matures to an overtly specialized cell type. Differentiated cells have distinct characteristics, perform specific functions, and are less likely to divide than their less differentiated counterparts.

An "undifferentiated" cell, for example, an immature, embryonic, or primitive cell, typically has a nonspecific appearance, may perform multiple, non-specific activities, and may perform poorly, if at all, in functions typically performed by differentiated cells.

"Somatic cell" refers to any and all differentiated cells and does not include stem cells, germ cells, or gametes. Preferably, "somatic cell" as used herein refers to a terminally differentiated cell.

As used herein, "committed" refers to cells which are considered to be permanently committed to a specific function. Committed cells are also referred to as "terminally differentiated cells".

As used herein, "differentiation" refers to the adaptation of cells for a particular form or function. In cells, differentiation leads to a more committed cell.

As used herein, "de-differentiation" refers to loss of specialization in form or function. In cells, de-differentiation leads to a less committed cell.

As used herein "reprogramming" refers to the resetting of the genetic program of a cell. A reprogrammed cell preferably exhibits pluripotency.

The terms "de-differentiated" and "reprogrammed" or similar terms are used interchangeably herein to denote somatic cell-derived cells having stem cell characteristics. However, said terms are not intended to limit the subject-matter disclosed herein by mechanistic or functional considerations.

The term "RNA inducing the development of stem cell characteristics" or "RNA capable of expressing one or more factors allowing the reprogramming of the somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics" refers to RNA which when introduced into a somatic cell induces the cell to de-differentiate.

As used herein, "germ cell" refers to a reproductive cell such as a spermatocyte or an oocyte, or a cell that will develop into a reproductive cell.

As used herein, "pluripotent " refers to cells that can give rise to any cell type except the cells of the placenta or other supporting cells of the uterus.

Terms such as "cell having stem cell characteristics", "cell having stem cell properties" or "stem like cell" are used herein to designate cells which, although they are derived from differentiated somatic non-stem cells, exhibit one or more features typical for stem cells, in particular embryonic stem cells. Such features include an embryonic stem cell morphology such as compact colonies, high nucleus to cytoplasm ratio and prominent nucleoli, normal karyotypes, expression of telomerase activity, expression of cell surface markers that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells, and/or expression of genes that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells. The cell surface markers that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells are, for example, selected from the group consisting of stage-specific embryonic antigen-3 (SSEA-3), SSEA-4, tumor-related antigen-1-60 (TRA-1-60), TRA-1-81, and TRA-2-49/6E. The genes that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells are selected, for example, from the group consisting of endogenous OCT4, endogenous NANOG, growth and differentiation factor 3 (GDF3), reduced expression 1 (REX1), fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4), embryonic cell-specific gene 1 (ESG1), developmental pluripotency-associated 2 (DPPA2), DPPA4 , and telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT). In one embodiment, the one or more features typical for stem cells include pluripotency.

In one embodiment of the invention, the stem cell characteristics comprise an embryonic stem cell morphology, wherein said embryonic stem cell morphology preferably comprises morphological ciriteria selected from the group consisting of compact colonies, high nucleus to cytoplasm ratio and prominent nucleoli. In certain embodiments, the cells having stem cell characteristics have normal karyotypes, express telomerase activity, express cell surface markers that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells and/or express genes that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells. The cell surface markers that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells may be selected from the group consisting of stage-specific embryonic antigen-3 (SSEA-3), SSEA-4, tumor-related antigen-1-60 (TRA-1-60), TRA-1-81, and TRA-2-49/6E and the genes that are characteristic for embryonic stem cells may be selected from the group consisting of endogenous OCT4, endogenous NANOG, growth and differentiation factor 3 (GDF3), reduced expression 1 (REX1), fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4), embryonic cell-specific gene 1 (ESG1), developmental pluripotency-associated 2 (DPPA2), DPPA4, and telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT).

Preferably, the cells having stem cell characteristics are de-differentiated and/or reprogrammed somatic cells. Preferably, the cells having stem cell characteristics exhibit the essential characteristics of embryonic stem cells such as a pluripotent state. Preferably, the cells having stem cell characteristics have the developmental potential to differentiate into advanced derivatives of all three primary germ layers. In one embodiment, the primary germ layer is endoderm and the advanced derivative is gut-like epithelial tissue. In a further embodiment, the primary germ layer is mesoderm and the advanced derivative is striated muscle and/or cartilage. In an even further embodiment, the primary germ layer is ectoderm and the advanced derivative is neural tissue and/or epidermal tissue. In one preferred embodiment, the cells having stem cell characteristics have the developmental potential to differentiate into neuronal cells and/or cardiac cells.

In one embodiment, the somatic cells are embryonic stem cell derived somatic cells with a mesenchymal phenotype. In a preferred embodiment, the somatic cells are fibroblasts such as fetal fibroblasts or postnatal fibroblasts or keratinocytes, preferably hair follicle derived keratinocytes. In further embodiments, the fibroblasts are lung fibroblasts, foreskin fibroblasts or dermal fibroblasts. In particular embodiments, the fibroblasts are fibroblasts as deposited at the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) under Catalog No. CCL-186, as deposited at the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) under Catalog No. CRL-2097 or as deposited at the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) under Catalog No. CRL-2522, or as distributed by System Biosciences under the catalog no. PC501A-HFF. In one embodiment, the fibroblasts are adult human dermal fibroblasts. Preferably, the somatic cells are human cells. According to the present invention, the somatic cells may be genetically modified.

The term "factor" according to the invention when used in conjunction with the expression thereof by RNA includes proteins and peptides as well as derivatives and variants thereof. For example, the term "factor" comprises OCT4, SOX2, NANOG, LIN28, KLF4 and c-MYC.

The factors can be of any animal species; e.g., mammals and rodents. Examples of mammals include but are not limited to human and non-human primates. Primates include but are not limited to humans, chimpanzees, baboons, cynomolgus monkeys, and any other New or Old World monkeys. Rodents include but are not limited to mouse, rat, guinea pig, hamster and gerbil.

According to the present invention, one or more factors capable of allowing the reprogramming of somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics comprise an assembly of factors selected from the group consisting of (i) OCT4 and SOX2, (ii) OCT4, SOX2, and one or both of NANOG and LIN28, (iii) OCT4, SOX2 and one or both of KLF4 and c-MYC. In one embodiment, said one or more factors capable of being expressed by the RNA comprise OCT4, SOX2, NANOG and LIN28 or OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and c-MYC. Preferably, the RNA is introduced into said somatic cells by electroporation or microinjection. Preferably, the invention further comprises allowing the development of cells having stem cell characteristics, e.g. by culturing the somatic cell under embryonic stem cell culture conditions, preferably conditions suitable for maintaining pluripotent stem cells in an undifferentiated state.

OCT4 is a transcription factor of the eukaryotic POU transcription factors and an indicator of pluripotency of embryonic stem cells. It is a maternally expressed Octomer binding protein. It has been observed to be present in oocytes, the inner cell mass of blastocytes and also in the primordial germ cell. The gene P0U5F1 encodes the OCT4 protein. Synonyms to the gene name include OCT3 , OCT4 , OTF3 and MGC22487. The presence of OCT4 at specific concentrations is necessary for embryonic stem cells to remain undifferentiated. Preferably, "OCT4 protein" or simply "OCT4" relates to human OCT4.

Sox2 is a member of the Sox (SRY-related HMG box) gene family that encode transcription factors with a single HMG DNA-binding domain. SOX2 has been found to control neural progenitor cells by inhibiting their ability to differentiate. The repression of the factor results in delamination from the ventricular zone, which is followed by an exit from the cell cycle. These cells also begin to lose their progenitor character through the loss of progenitor and early neuronal differentiation markers. Preferably, "SOX2 protein" or simply "SOX2" relates to human SOX2.

NANOG is a NK-2 type homeodomain gene, and has been proposed to play a key role in maintaining stem cell pluripotency presumably by regulating the expression of genes critical to embryonic stem cell renewal and differentiation. NANOG behaves as a transcription activator with two unusually strong activation domains embedded in its C terminus. Reduction of NANOG expression induces differentiation of embryonic stem cells. Preferably, "NANOG protein" or simply "NANOG" relates to human NANOG.

LIN28 is a conserved cytoplasmic protein with an unusual pairing of RNA-binding motifs: a cold shock domain and a pair of retroviral-type CCHC zinc fingers. In mammals, it is abundant in diverse types of undifferentiated cells. In pluripotent mammalian cells, LIN28 is observed in RNase-sensitive complexes with Poly (A)-Binding Protein, and in polysomal fractions of sucrose gradients, suggesting it is associated with translating mRNAs. Preferably, "LIN28 protein" or simply "LIN28" relates to human LIN28.

Krueppel-like factor (KLF4) is a zinc-finger transcription factor, which is strongly expressed in postmitotic epithelial cells of different tissues, e.g. the colon, the stomach and the skin. KLF4 is essential for the terminal differentiation of these cells and involved in the cell cycle regulation. Preferably, "KLF4 protein" or simply "KLF4 " relates to human KLF4.

MYC (cMYC) is a protooncogene, which is overexpressed in a wide range of human cancers. When it is specifically-mutated, or overexpressed, it increases cell proliferation and functions as an oncogene. MYC gene encodes for a transcription factor that regulates expression of 15% of all genes through binding on Enhancer Box sequences (E-boxes) and recruiting histone acetyltransferases (HATs). MYC belongs to MYC family of transcription factors, which also includes N-MYC and L-MYC genes. MYC-family transcription factors contain the bHLH/LZ (basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper) domain. Preferably, "cMYC protein" or simply "cMYC" relates to human cMYC.

A reference herein to specific factors such as OCT4, SOX2, NANOG, LIN28, KLF4 or c-MYC is to be understood so as to also include all variants of these factors. In particular, it is to be understood so as to also include all splice variants, posttranslationally modified variants, conformations, isoforms and species homologs of these factors which are naturally expressed by cells.

The term "miRNA" (microRNA) relates to 21-23-nucleotide-long noncoding RNAs found in eukaryotic cells that, by inducing degradation and/or preventing translation of target mRNAs, modulate a plethora of cell functions, including those related to ESC self-renewal/differentiation and cell cycle progression. miRNAs are post-transcriptional regulators that bind to complementary sequences on target messenger RNA transcripts (mRNAs), usually resulting in translational repression or target degradation and gene silencing. It has been found that miRNAs in the right combination are capable of inducing direct cellular reprogramming of somatic cells to cells having stem cell characteristics in vitro. For example, it has been observed that miRNA cluster 302-367 enhances somatic cell reprogramming.

Preferably, the step of allowing the development of cells having stem cell characteristics comprises culturing the somatic cells under embryonic stem cell culture conditions, preferbly conditions suitable for maintaining pluripotent stem cells in an undifferentiated state.

Preferably, to allow the development of cells having stem cell characteristics, cells are cultivated in the presence of one or more DNA methyltransferase inhibitors and/or one or more histone deacetylase inhibitors . Preferred compounds are selected from the group consisting of 5 '-azacytidine (5'-azaC), suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA), dexamethasone, trichostatin A (TSA), sodium butyrate (NaBu), Scriptaid and valproic acid (VPA). Preferably, cells are cultivated in the presence of valproic acid (VPA), preferably in a concentration of between 0.5 and 10 mM, more preferably between 1 and 5 mM, most preferably in a concentration of about 2 mM.

The methods of the present invention can be used to effect de-differentiation of any type of somatic cell. Cells that may be used include cells that can be de-differentiated or reprogrammed by the methods of the present invention, in particular cells that are fully or partially differentiated, more preferably terminally differentiated. Preferably, the somatic cell is a diploid cell derived from pre-embryonic, embryonic, fetal, and post-natal multi-cellular organisms. Examples of cells that may be used include but are not limited to fibroblasts, such as fetal and neonatal fibroblasts or adult fibroblasts, keratinocytes, in particular primary keratinocytes, more preferably keratinocytes derived from hair, adipose cells, epithelial cells, epidermal cells, chondrocytes, cumulus cells, neural cells, glial cells, astrocytes, cardiac cells, esophageal cells, muscle cells, melanocytes, hematopoietic cells, osteocytes, macrophages, monocytes, and mononuclear cells.

The cells with which the methods of the invention can be used can be of any animal species; e.g., mammals and rodents. Examples of mammalian cells that can be de-differentiated and re-differentiated by the present invention include but are not limited to human and non- human primate cells. Primate cells with which the invention may be performed include but are not limited to cells of humans, chimpanzees, baboons, cynomolgus monkeys, and any other New or Old World monkeys. Rodent cells with which the invention may be performed include but are not limited to mouse, rat, guinea pig, hamster and gerbil cells.

De-differentiated cells prepared according to the present invention are expected to display many of the same requirements as pluripotent stem cells and can be expanded and maintained under conditions used for embryonic stem cells, e.g. ES cell medium or any medium that supports growth of the embryonic cells. Embryonic stem cells retain their pluripotency in vitro when maintained on inactivated fetal fibroblasts such as irradiated mouse embryonic fibroblasts or human fibroblasts (e.g., human foreskin fibroblasts, human skin fibroblasts, human endometrial fibroblasts, human oviductal fibroblasts) in culture. In one embodiment, the human feeder cells may be autologous feeder cells derived from the same culture of reprogrammed cells by direct differentiation.

Furthermore, human embryonic stem cells can successfully be propagated on Matrigel in a medium conditioned by mouse fetal fibroblasts. Human stem cells can be grown in culture for extended period of time and remain undifferentiated under specific culture conditions.

In certain embodiments, the cell culture conditions may include contacting the cells with factors that can inhibit differentiation or otherwise potentiate de- differentiation of cells , e.g., prevent the differentiation of cells into non-ES cells trophectoderm or other cell types.

De-differentiated cells prepared according to the present invention can be evaluated by methods including monitoring changes in the cells' phenotype and characterizing their gene and protein expression. Gene expression can be determined by RT-PCR, and translation products can be determined by immunocytochemistry and Western blotting. In particular, de-differentiated cells can be characterized to determine the pattern of gene expression and whether the reprogrammed cells display a pattern of gene expression similar to the expression pattern expected of undifferentiated, pluripotent control cells such as embryonic stem cells using techniques well known in the art including transcriptomics .

The expression of the following genes of de-differentiated cells can be assessed in this respect: 0CT4, NANOG, growth and differentiation factor 3 (GDF3), reduced expression 1 (REX1), fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4), embryonic cell-specific gene 1 (ESG1), developmental pluripotency-associated 2 (DPPA2), DPPA4, telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), embryonic antigen-3 (SSEA-3), SSEA-4, tumor-related antigen-1-60 (TRA-1-60), TRA-1-81, and TRA-2-49/6E.

The undifferentiated or embryonic stem cells to which the reprogrammed cells may be compared may be from the same species as the differentiated somatic cells. Alternatively, the undifferentiated or embryonic stem cells to which the reprogrammed cells may be compared may be from a different species as the differentiated somatic cells.

In some embodiments, a similarity in gene expression pattern exists between a reprogrammed cell and an undifferentiated cell, e.g., embryonic stem cell, if certain genes specifically expressed in an undifferentiated cell are also expressed in the reprogrammed cell. For example, certain genes, e.g., telomerase, that are typically undetectable in differentiated somatic cells may be used to monitor the extent of reprogramming. Likewise, for certain genes, the absence of expression may be used to assess the extent of reprogramming.

Self-renewing capacity, marked by induction of telomerase activity, is another characteristic of stem cells that can be monitored in de-differentiated cells.

Karyotypic analysis may be performed by means of chromosome spreads from mitotic cells, spectral karyotyping, assays of telomere length, total genomic hybridization, or other techniques well known in the art.

Using the present invention, RNA encoding appropriate factors is incorporated into one or more somatic cells, e.g. by electroporation. After incorporation, cells are preferably cultured using conditions that support maintenance of de-differentiated cells (i.e. stem cell culture conditions). The de-differentiated cells can then be expanded and induced to re-differentiate into different type of somatic cells that are needed for cell therapy. De-differentiated cells obtained according to the present invention can be induced to differentiate into one or more desired somatic cell types in vitro or in vivo.

Preferably, the de-differentiated cells obtained according to the present invention may give rise to cells from any of three embryonic germ layers, i.e., endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. For example, the de-differentiated cells may differentiate into skeletal muscle, skeleton, dermis of skin, connective tissue, urogenital system, heart, blood (lymph cells), and spleen (mesoderm); stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, urinary bladder; lining of urethra, epithelial parts of trachea, lungs, pharynx, thyroid, parathyroid, intestine (endoderm); or central nervous system, retina and lens, cranial and sensory, ganglia and nerves, pigment cells, head connective tissue, epidermis, hair, mammary glands (ectoderm). The de-differentiated cells obtained according to the present invention can be re-differentiated in vitro or in vivo using techniques known in the art.

In one embodiment of the present invention, the reprogrammed cells resulting from the methods of this invention are used to produce differentiated progeny. Thus, in one aspect, the present invention provides a method for producing differentiated cells, comprising: (i) obtaining reprogrammed cells using the methods of this invention; and (ii) inducing differentiation of the reprogrammed cells to produce differentiated cells. Step (ii) can be performed in vivo or in vitro. Furthermore, differentiation can be induced through the presence of appropriate differentiation factors which can either be added or are present in situ, e.g. in a body, organ or tissue into which the reprogrammed cells have been introduced. The differentiated cells can be used to derive cells, tissues and/or organs which are advantageously used in the area of cell, tissue, and/or organ transplantation. If desired, genetic modifications can be introduced, for example, into somatic cells prior to reprogramming. The differentiated cells of the present invention preferably do not possess the pluripotency of an embryonic stem cell, or an embryonic germ cell, and are, in essence, tissue-specific partially or fully differentiated cells.

One advantage of the methods of the present invention is that the reprogrammed cells obtained by the present invention can be differentiated without prior selection or purification or establishment of a cell line. Accordingly in certain embodiments, a heterogeneous population of cells comprising reprogrammed cells are differentiated into a desired cell type. In one embodiment, a mixture of cells obtained from the methods of the present invention is exposed to one or more differentiation factors and cultured in vitro.

Methods of differentiating reprogrammed cells obtained by the methods disclosed herein may comprise a step of permeabilization of the reprogrammed cell. For example, cells generated by the reprogramming techniques described herein, or alternatively a heterogeneous mixture of cells comprising reprogrammed cells, may be permeabilized before exposure to one or more differentiation factors or cell extract or other preparation comprising differentiation factors.

For example, differentiated cells may be obtained by culturing undifferentiated reprogrammed cells in the presence of at least one differentiation factor and selecting differentiated cells from the culture. Selection of differentiated cells may be based on phenotype, such as the expression of certain cell markers present on differentiated cells, or by functional assays (e.g., the ability to perform one or more functions of a particular differentiated cell type).

In another embodiment, the cells reprogrammed according to the present invention are genetically modified through the addition, deletion, or modification of their DNA sequence(s).

The reprogrammed or de-differentiated cells prepared according to the present invention or cells derived from the reprogrammed or de-differentiated cells are useful in research and in therapy. Reprogrammed pluripotent cells may be differentiated into any of the cells in the body including, without limitation, skin, cartilage, bone skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, renal, hepatic, blood and blood forming, vascular precursor and vascular endothelial, pancreatic beta, neurons, glia, retinal, neuronal, intestinal, lung, and liver cells.

The reprogrammed cells are useful for regenerative/reparative therapy and may be transplanted into a patient in need thereof. In one embodiment, the cells are autologous with the patient.

The reprogrammed cells provided in accordance with the present invention may be used, for example, in therapeutic strategies in the treatment of cardiac, neurological, endocrinological, vascular, retinal, dermatological , muscular-skeletal disorders, and other diseases.

For example, and not intended as a limitation, the reprogrammed cells of the present invention can be used to replenish cells in animals whose natural cells have been depleted due to age or ablation therapy such as cancer radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In another non-limiting example, the reprogrammed cells of the present invention are useful in organ regeneration and tissue repair. In one embodiment of the present invention, reprogrammed cells can be used to reinvigorate damaged muscle tissue including dystrophic muscles and muscles damaged by ischemic events such as myocardial infarcts. In another embodiment of the present invention, the reprogrammed cells disclosed herein can be used to ameliorate scarring in animals, including humans, following a traumatic injury or surgery. In this embodiment, the reprogrammed cells of the present invention are administered systemically, such as intravenously, and migrate to the site of the freshly traumatized tissue recruited by circulating cytokines secreted by the damaged cells. In another embodiment of the present invention, the reprogrammed cells can be administered locally to a treatment site in need or repair or regeneration.

In one embodiment of the invention, nucleic acids such as RNA are administered to a patient by ex vivo methods, i.e. by removing cells from a patient, genetically modifying said cells and reintroducing the modified cells into the patient. Transfection and transduction methods are known to the skilled worker.

The term "transfection" relates to the introduction of nucleic acids, in particular RNA, into a cell. For purposes of the present invention, the term "transfection" also includes the introduction of a nucleic acid into a cell or the uptake of a nucleic acid by such cell, wherein the cell may be present in a subject, e.g., a patient. Thus, according to the present invention, a cell for transfection of a nucleic acid described herein can be present in vitro or in vivo, e.g. the cell can form part of an organ, a tissue and/or an organism of a patient. According to the invention, transfection can be transient or stable. For some applications of transfection, it is sufficient if the transfected genetic material is only transiently expressed. Since the nucleic acid introduced in the transfection process is usually not integrated into the nuclear genome, the foreign nucleic acid will be diluted through mitosis or degraded. Cells allowing episomal amplification of nucleic acids greatly reduce the rate of dilution. If it is desired that the transfected nucleic acid actually remains in the genome of the cell and its daughter cells, a stable transfection must occur. RNA can be transfected into cells to transiently express its coded protein.

According to the present invention, any technique useful for introducing, i.e. transferring or transfecting, nucleic acids into cells may be used. Preferably, RNA is transfected into cells by standard techniques. Such techniques include electroporation, lipofection and microinjection. In one particularly preferred embodiment of the present invention, RNA is introduced into cells by electroporation. Electroporation or electropermeabilization relates to a significant increase in the electrical conductivity and permeability of the cell plasma membrane caused by an externally applied electrical field. It is usually used in molecular biology as a way of introducing some substance into a cell. According to the invention it is preferred that introduction of nucleic acid encoding a protein or peptide into cells results in expression of said protein or peptide.

According to the invention, nucleic acids may be directed to particular cells. In such embodiments, a carrier used for administering a nucleic acid to a cell (e.g. a retrovirus or a liposome) may have a bound targeting molecule. For example, a molecule such as an antibody specific to a surface membrane protein on the target cell, or a ligand for a receptor on the target cell may be incorporated into or bound to the nucleic acid carrier. If administration of a nucleic acid by liposomes is desired, proteins binding to a surface membrane protein associated with endocytosis may be incorporated into the liposome formulation in order to enable targeting and/or absorption. Such proteins include capsid proteins or fragments thereof which are specific to a particular cell type, antibodies to proteins that are internalized, proteins targeting an intracellular site, and the like.

"Reporter" relates to a molecule, typically a peptide or protein, which is encoded by a reporter gene and measured in a reporter assay. Conventional systems usually employ an enzymatic reporter and measure the activity of said reporter.

The term "multiple cloning site" refers to a nucleic acid region containing restriction enzyme sites, any one of which may be used for cleavage of, for example, a vector and insertion of a nucleic acid.

According to the invention, two elements such as nucleotides or amino acids are consecutive, if they are directly adjacent to one another, without any interruption. For example, a sequence of x consecutive nucleotides N refers to the sequence (N)x.

"Restriction endonuclease" or "restriction enzyme" refers to a class of enzymes that cleave phosphodiester bonds in both strands of a DNA molecule within specific base sequences. They recognize specific binding sites, referred to as recognition sequences, on a double-stranded DNA molecule. The sites at which said phosphodiester bonds in the DNA are cleaved by said enzymes are referred to as cleavage sites. In the case of type IIS enzymes, the cleavage site is located at a defined distance from the DNA binding site. According to the invention, the term "restriction endonuclease" comprises, for example, the enzymes Sapl, EciI, BpiI, AarI, AloI, BaeI, BbvCI, PpiI and PsrI, BsrD1, BtsI, EarI, BmrI, BsaI, BsmBI, FauI, BbsI, BciVI, BfuAI, BspMI, BseRI, EciI, BtgZI, BpuEI, BsgI, MmeI, CspCI, BaeI, BsaMI, Mva1269I, PctI, Bse3DI, BseMI, Bst6I, Eam1104I, Ksp632I, BfiI, Bso31I, BspTNI, Eco31I, Esp3I, BfuI, Acc36I, AarI, Eco57I, Eco57MI, GsuI, AloI, Hin4I, PpiI, and PsrI.

The term "stability" of RNA relates to the "half-life" of RNA. "Half-life" relates to the period of time which is needed to eliminate half of the activity, amount, or number of molecules. In the context of the present invention, the half-life of a RNA is indicative for the stability of said RNA.

The nucleic acids such as RNA described herein, in particular when used for the treatments described herein, may be present in the form of a pharmaceutical composition or kit comprising the nucleic acid and optionally one or more pharmaceutically acceptable carriers, diluents and/or excipients.

Pharmaceutical compositions are preferably sterile and contain an effective amount of the nucleic acid.

Pharmaceutical compositions are usually provided in a uniform dosage form and may be prepared in a manner known in the art. The pharmaceutical composition may, e.g., be in the form of a solution or suspension.

The pharmaceutical composition may comprise salts, buffer substances, preservatives, carriers, diluents and/or excipients all of which are preferably pharmaceutically acceptable. The term "pharmaceutically acceptable" refers to the non-toxicity of a material which does not interfere with the action of the active component (s) of the pharmaceutical composition.

Salts which are not pharmaceutically acceptable may be used for preparing pharmaceutically acceptable salts and are included in the invention. Pharmaceutically acceptable salts of this kind comprise, in a non- limiting way, those prepared from the following acids: hydrochloric, hydrobromic, sulfuric, nitric, phosphoric, maleic, acetic, salicylic, citric, formic, malonic, succinic acids, and the like. Pharmaceutically acceptable salts may also be prepared as alkali metal salts or alkaline earth metal salts, such as sodium salts, potassium salts or calcium salts.

Suitable buffer substances for use in the pharmaceutical composition include acetic acid in a salt, citric acid in a salt, boric acid in a salt and phosphoric acid in a salt.

Suitable preservatives for use in the pharmaceutical composition include benzalkonium chloride, chlorobutanol, paraben and thimerosal.

The term "carrier" refers to an organic or inorganic component, of a natural or non-natural (synthetic) nature, with which the active component is combined in order to facilitate, enhance or enable application. According to the invention, the term "carrier" also includes one or more compatible solid or liquid fillers, diluents or encapsulating substances, which are suitable for administration to a patient.

Possible carrier substances for parenteral administration are, e.g., sterile water, glucose solutions, Ringer, Ringer lactate, sterile sodium chloride solution, polyalkylene glycols, hydrogenated naphthalenes and, in particular, biocompatible lactide polymers, lactide/glycolide copolymers or polyoxyethylene/polyoxy-propylene copolymers.

The term "excipient" when used herein is intended to indicate all substances which may be present in a pharmaceutical composition and which are not active ingredients such as, e.g., carriers, binders, lubricants, thickeners, surface active agents, preservatives, emulsifiers, buffers, flavoring agents, or colorants.

The pharmaceutical compositions described herein may be administered via any conventional route, such as by parenteral administration including by injection or infusion. Administration is preferably parenterally, e.g. intravenously, intraarterially, subcutaneously, in the lymph node, intradermally or intramuscularly.

Compositions suitable for parenteral administration usually comprise a sterile aqueous or non-aqueous preparation of the active compound, which is preferably isotonic to the blood of the recipient. Examples of compatible carriers and solvents are Ringer's solution and isotonic sodium chloride solution. In addition, usually sterile, fixed oils are used as solution or suspension medium.

The agents and compositions described herein are preferably administered in effective amounts. An "effective amount" refers to the amount which achieves a desired reaction or a desired effect alone or together with further doses. In the case of treatment of a particular disease or of a particular condition, the desired reaction preferably relates to inhibition of the course of the disease. This comprises slowing down the progress of the disease and, in particular, interrupting or reversing the progress of the disease.

The desired reaction in a treatment of a disease or of a condition may also be delay of the onset or a prevention of the onset of said disease or said condition.

An effective amount of an agent or composition described herein will depend on the condition to be treated, the severeness of the disease, the individual parameters of the patient, including age, physiological condition, size and weight, the duration of treatment, the type of an accompanying therapy (if present), the specific route of administration and similar factors. Accordingly, the doses administered of the agents described herein may depend on several of these parameters. In the case that a reaction in a patient is insufficient with an initial dose, higher doses (or effectively higher doses achieved by a different, more localized route of administration) may be used.

The present invention is described in detail by the following figures and examples which should be construed by way of illustration only and not by way of limitation. On the basis of the description and the examples, further embodiments are accessible to the skilled worker and are likewise within the scope of the invention.

Figures

Figure 1: Overview of the in vivo selection process

To prepare the starting library, human immature dendritic cells were grown in the presence of Actinomycin D, an inhibitor of transcription, for five hours to preselect stable RNAs. The remaining cellular mRNA was extracted and purified using the Poly(A)Purist Kit (Ambion) and next fragmented with Nuclease PI (Roche) . For this, 10 μg RNA were incubated for 45 min with 0.3 U NP-1 in 8μL 50 mM NaAc buffer (pH 5.5) in a total reaction volume of 24 μL. After purification with RNeasy columns (Qiagen) the fragments were ready to be reverse transcribed into cDNA. First and second strand synthesis were done using and following the protocol of the RevertAid Premium 1st strand cDNA synthesis Kit (Fermentas) and a hexamer-primer with a defined primer sequence and a Notl-restriction site. To fill-in 5'-overhangs and remove 3'-overhangs the cDNA was next incubated with 12.5 U T4 DNA polymerase for 5 min at 15 °C. Reaction was terminated adding 5 μL 0.5 mM EDTA, pH 8.0 and cDNA was purified using NucleoBond columns (Macherey-Nagel). Digest of cDNA-library with NotI (NEB) produced fragments with a blunt and sticky end. Fragments were additionally size selected via gel preparation to ensure removal of all fragments smaller 150 bps. For the cloning of the library the vector as shown in panel A was digested with EcoRV and Notl leaving a blunt and sticky end respectively. In the next step the library was ligated into the vector using the T4 DNA ligase (Fermentas). The ligation mixture was directly used as template for PCR as given in Tab. 4 using the Phusion™ Hot Start High-Fidelity DNA Polymerase (Finnzymes). After purification, PCR-product was used as template for T7-transcription as shown in Tab. 5. Incubation was done at 37 °C. After every 30 min 0.75 μL 100 mM GTP were added to the reaction. Reaction was stopped after 2.5h by adding TURBO DNase (2U/μL, Ambion) and incubating for another 15 min at 37 °C. Reaction was finally cleaned up via RNeasy columns (Qiagen). The RNA-library could then be used for the selection procedure starting with electroporation of the RNA into hiDCs as described previously (Kuhn et al, 2010). After the cultivation for selection, extraction and purification of the RNA was done using RNeasy columns (Qiagen) and following manufacturer's instructions. RNA was next used as template for cDNA synthesis using the Superscript II Reverse transcriptase (Invitrogen) and following manufacturer's instructions and a dT18-primer. cDNA was next used as template for PCR as described above. Finally, the PCR products could be used as template for T7-transcription (see above) to start the next selection round (panel B). Quality controls of DNA/cDNA and RNA samples were done via agarose gel and AGILENT 2100 bioanalyzer respectively.

Figure 2: Schematic of sample appearance within the luc2CPmut-vector

(A) A single element or two (upstream and downstream) elements were cloned as 3'-UTRs into the vector as given. Shown are also control samples NEG (negative control without insertion of a 3' UTR), hBg and 2hBg. Preparation of RNA for selection rounds. (B) For electroporation in hiDCs vector was used as template for PCR using elongated primers comprising the T7-promotor and the poly (A)-tail. PCR-product was next used as template for T7-in vitro synthesis to produce the respective IVT-RNA.

Figure 3: Effect of the selected sequences on the stability of RNAs encoding luc2CPmut

Results showing luciferase activity, half-life and total protein over time of RNAs containing the selected sequences as 3' UTRs compared to our gold-standard 2hBg upon electroporation into human immature dendritic cells (NEG is as defined in Fig. 2). The upper panel gives the time courses of three exemplary RNAs with 3' UTRs as indicated. In the lower left panel, the half-life of the RNAs with the respective 3' UTR as indicated relative to an RNA with 2hBg is shown. Similarly, the relative total protein expression compared to an RNA with 2hBG is given in the lower right panel.

Figure 4 : Representative luciferase activity using luc2mut as reporter gene and newly selected 3'-UTRs After electroporation of RNAs with 3' UTRs as indicated into human immature dendritic cells, luciferase activity was measured over 72h.

Figure 5: Representative results of electroporation with IVT-RNAs into fibroblasts

left panel: luc2CPmut based vector. right panel: luc2mut based vector

Figure 6: Representative results of electroporation with IVT-RNAs into T cells

The leftmost panel gives the relative total protein expression of an RNA with the FI 3' UTR compared to an RNA with 2hBG in CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Similarly, the relative translation efficiency and mRNA half-life of an RNA with the FI 3' UTR compared to an RNA with 2hBG in CD4+ and CD8+ T cells is given in the middle and rightmost panel, respectively.

Figure 7: RNA architecture and integrity for testing RNAs with modified nucleotides

A: The RNAs used in the Luciferase assays were constructed as depicted here. As 5' cap β-S-ARCA(D2) was used. As 5'UTR the human alpha globin 5'UTR was used, including a Kozak sequence. After the Firefly Luciferase gene, the two 3'UTRs to be compared were cloned. As polyA-tail, an A30L70 sequence was used.

B: Before transfection, the RNAs were checked for their integrity on a 2100 Bioanalyzer (Agilent). All RNAs had a sufficiently high and also comparable integrity and could therefore be used in the experiments.

Figure 8: Effect of the FI 3' UTR an RNA stability and functionality in vivo

Luciferase and gp70 mRNA containing the FI 3'UTR or the 2hBg 3'UTR were formulated with F12 and administered i.v. into BALB/c mice. After Luciferase mRNA administration, expression was monitored after 6h and 24h; gp70 mRNA was administered at day 0 and day 6 and immune activation was analyzed at day 10 via CD8 and gp70 tet+ staining.

A) Shows the Luciferase Expression levels at 6h and 24h post injection of unmodified and mlY modified mRNA containing the FI 3'UTR or the 2hBg 3'UTR. Both unmodified and mlY modified Luciferase mRNA containing the FI 3'UTR show comparable expression levels as the corresponding mRNA containing the 2hBg 3'UTR.

B) Shows the percentage of gp70-specific CD8 T cells in response to gp70 mRNA containing the FI 3'UTR or the 2hBg 3'UTR. The two 3'UTRs perform equally well in inducing antigen-specific immunity after two immunizations, with a significant increase of antigen-specific CD8 T cells in the spleen of those mice that had received gp70 mRNA containing the FI 3'UTR.

Statistics: One-way ANOVA and Tukey' s post test, *p<0.05 .

Figure 9: Effect of stabilizing UTRs on stability of self-replicating RNA

Destabilized Luciferase (Luc2CP) was cloned immediately upstream of the 3'conserved sequence element of a non-cytotoxic Semliki Forest virus derived self-replicating (replicon) RNA. Replicon RNA was prepared by in vitro transcription from a corresponding linearized plasmid and electroporated into cells. Luciferase expression was measured by adding luminescent substrate for 96h to 120h. (A) Time course of luciferase expression in a representative experiment with BHK21 cells. (B) Time course of luciferase expression in a representative experiment with human foreskin fibroblasts (HFF). To reduce cytotoxicity of released type I interferons, Vaccinia virus B18R mRNA was cotransfected in each sample. To inhibit protein kinase R activation and increase the overall level of translation, Vaccinia virus E3 mRNA was cotransfected in each sample.

Figure 10: homology stretches in the FI Element.

The underlined sequence stretches were predicted to base-pair with each other. For the "8nt mutation" construct, the first element was mutated to aaagggcu to disrupt interactions with the second element.

Figure 11: Artefacts in PCR-template based IVT using 2hBgUTR.

A: Schematic representation of IVT template generation via PCR. The 5' primer anneals upstream of the T7 Promoter, the 3' primer contains a 120nt polyA tail and anneals to the plasmid-encoded polyA and part of the 3'UTR. In case of the 2hBgUTR, mispriming by annealing to the first repeat can occur. B: PCR products from a plasmid containing the 2hBgUTR. The red arrow depicts the side product , representing a lhBg truncation. C: The RNA transcribed from such a PCR product thus also presents a shortened by-product (arrow). D: PCR products from a plasmid containing the FI element as 3'UTR. No side product is visible. E: The resulting mRNA is of the expected high integrity without any additional side-peaks.

Figure 12: Schematic representation of the truncated UTR elements and half-life of corresponding mRNA constructs.

The upper panel of figure A shows a schematic representation of the truncated UTR elements in reference to the nucleic acid positions of the full length sequence of the F-element SEQ ID NO: 86 covered by those truncated variants.

The lower panel of figure A shows the relative half-life of mRNA comprising the truncated UTR in reference to mRNA comprising the full length sequence of the F-element SEQ ID NO: 86. The mRNAs encoding a Luciferase reporter were electroporated into hiDCs and their expression was followed over time by Luciferase measurements to determine relative RNA half-life.

The upper panel of figure B shows a schematic representation of the truncated UTR elements in reference to the nucleic acid positions of the full length sequence of the I-element SEQ ID NO: 115 covered by those truncated variants.

The lower panel of figure B shows the relative half-life of mRNA comprising the truncated UTR in reference to mRNA comprising the full length sequence of the I-element SEQ ID NO: 115. The mRNAs encoding a Luciferase reporter were electroporated into hiDCs and their expression was followed over time by Luciferase measurements to determine relative RNA half-life.

Figure 13: Relative half-life and protein expression from mRNA constructs comprising of F, I or FI elements towards random UTRs.

Figure 13 shows the relative half-life and protein expression from mRNA constructs comprising of F, I or FI elements towards random UTRs. For this full length individual F and I elements as well as the FI combination were compared towards a random 3' UTR (257nt in length). All elements were cloned into luciferase-encoding constructs, in vitro transcribed to mRNA, electroporated into hiDCs, luciferase expression measured over time, and the relative half-lifes and total protein expression calculated.

Figure 14: UTR elements for cellular reprogramming.

Figure 14A shows the timeline for the reprogramming of primary human foreskin fibroblasts. 40,000 cells were plated into a 12-well-plate and lipofected for three (3x) or four (4x) consecutive days with mRNA mixtures that were composed of 0.33 μg unmodified in vitro transcribed (IVT)-RNA encoding the reprogramming TF OCT4, SOX2, KLF4, cMYC, NANOG and LIN28 (OSKMNL) (1:1:1:1:1:1) with 0.08 μg of each B18R, E3 and K3 (EKB) and 0.17μg of a miRNA mixture composed of miRNAs 302a-d and 367 (1:1:1:1:1:1). The RNA-constructs thereby only differed in their 3'UTR consisting of a tandem repeat of the human β-globin 3'UTR (2hBg), the F-I-element (FI) or I-F-element (IF). From day 9 on, colony formation was observed and analysis of colonies were performed on dll.

Figure 14B shows a alkaline phosphatase (AP) staining of the established colonies and figure 14C shows a corresponding bar chart representing the counted numbers of the AP positive colonies.

Figure 14D shows the morphology of resulting iPS-cell colonies using RNAs containing the FI-UTR. It was hES cell-like with tightly packed small cells in distinct colonies and well-defined borders.

Figure 14E shows the colonies prepared as in D stained positive for AP in four- and tenfold magnification.

Figure 14F shows colonies prepared as in D in a live staining of the hES cell surface marker TRA-1-60.

Figure 14G shows the mRNA-expression of the hES-markers OCT4 (endogenous), NANOG (endogenous), LIN28 (endogenous), TERT and REX1 evaluated by pelleting the colonies, isolating total RNA and quantifying by qRT-PCR.

Examples

Example 1: Identification of sequence elements that stabilize mRNAs

To identify novel sequence elements that stabilize mRNAs, we have developed an in vivo selection process using hiDCs as selective environment for the in vitro transcribed RNA. The starting RNA-library was built using naturally occurring mRNA sequences derived from hiDCs. Prior to RNA isolation, the cells were grown for 5 hours in the presence of the transcription inhibitor Actinomycin D (ActD) to preselect stable RNAs. The remaining mRNA was then extracted and reduced to fragments of 200-800 nucleotides, reverse transcribed, and cloned as 3'-UTR in a vector bearing a hAg 5'UTR sequence and a reporter gene, which was chosen as the basis of the selection process. The DNA template used for subsequent library mRNA transcription was amplified via PCR, during which a T7 promotor was introduced via the 5'- and an A60 polyA-tail via the 3' primer. The transcribed mRNA was then introduced in the in vivo selection process, which is comprised of several rounds of in vitro transcription of the library, electroporation of the corresponding RNAs into hiDCs, and extraction and amplification of stable sequences after defined time points. Amplification of the selected sequences was performed via PCR with specific primers, after cDNA synthesis. The resulting PCR products were subsequently used as templates for the new mRNA library. This was done for six rounds, with extraction of the remaining RNAs after 24 hours in round 1, 48 hours in rounds 2 and 3, 72 hours in rounds 4 and 5, and finally 96 hours as well as one and two weeks in round 6 (upon electroporation, the cells were split into three parts and then harvested individually at the time points given).

Monitoring of the selection process after rounds 1 through 5 demonstrated a significant increase of the average half-life of the corresponding RNA pool, which is indicative for an enrichment of stabilizing 3'-UTR-elements (Tab. 1). Nevertheless, the increase in stability was less pronounced with higher rounds. Therefore, the selection process was stopped after a final sixth round, in which the RNA was extracted from cells after 96 hours, one week, and two weeks. To characterize the selected sequences, more than 350 individual clones were sequenced, 108 from round 5, 88 from round 6/96 hours, 110 from round 6/1 week, and 96 from round 6/2 weeks. All sequences were compared to each other as well as BLASTed to identify their genomic origin. Here, it was especially looked at, whether the sequences were derived from endogenous 5'- or 3'-UTRs or from the coding region. Finally, their expression level in hiDCs was downloaded from NextBio (Illumina). In total, seven groups could be identified, (i) for which multiple sequences were found, (ii) which originated from the 3'-UTRs of endogenous RNAs or from an endogenous non-coding RNA, and (iii) which were clearly expressed in hiDCs (Tab. 2). These are derived from the following genes: Fc fragment of IgG, receptor, transporter, alpha (B, FCGRT, NM_001136019), Lymphocyte specific protein 1 (D, LSP1, NM_002339), Chemokine ligand 22 (E, CCL22, NM_002990), Amino-terminal enhancer of split (F, AES, NM_198969), Phospholipase D family member 3 (G, PLD3, NM_001031696),

Mitochondrially encoded 12S RNA (I, MT_RNR1, NC_012920), Major histocompatibility complex class II DR beta 4 (J, HLA-DRB4, NM_021983). Note that for simplicity the capital letters B to I given in parentheses are used in the following as abbreviations for these elements. Importantly, in all cases the clones for one sequence differ in their exact 5'- and 3'-ends, demonstrating that these come from different starting clones and are not simply artificially enriched during the process (see appendices for a complete listing of all sequences identified in the screening).

Example 2: Characterization of individual sequence elements identified

For characterization of the identified sequence elements, a representative candidate of each group was chosen (detailed sequences are marked in the appendix). This sequence was then cloned as 3'-UTR in a vector with a luciferase reporter gene, whose expression level can be analyzed over time upon transfer into cells. It has been previously demonstrated that from the expression pattern observed for the protein the relative stability and translational efficiency of the RNA can be accurately inferred (Kuhn 2010 Gene Ther.). The specific reporter used in this experiment, luc2CPmut, is a destabilized form of luciferase (Promega). This allows detecting even small changes in the stability of the RNA. The in vitro transcribed RNA coming from these vectors was then compared with our gold-standard-mRNA, i.e. containing the 2hBg 3'-UTR, regarding RNA stability and translational efficiency. As control samples an in vitro transcribed RNA without a 3'-UTR (i.e. only containing sequences used for cloning the inserts) and one with only a single Beta-globin element (lhB) were used.

Starting with the UTR containing vectors, the region to be transcribed was amplified by PCR using a 5' primer containing the T7 promoter and a 3' primer with a poly (A)-tail of 60 nucleotides. Cleanup of PCR fragments was done using AGENCOURT AMPURE XP (Beckman Coulter). 0.6 volume of beads were added to each PCR reaction and mixed. After a 15 min incubation at RT PCR, PCR products bound to the beads were separated via magnetic stand from excess primers, nucleotides, salts, and enzymes. Beads were washed twice for 30s with 80% ethanol to further remove contaminants. The desired PCR products were finally eluted twice with 30 μL ddH20 and used as template for in vitro transcription of the corresponding RNAs. For in vitro transcriptions T7 RNA polymerase (Fermentas), the respective reaction buffer and 6 mM NTPs were used. For efficient capping of the RNA the GTP concentration was lowered to 1.5 mM and 6 mM of β-S-ARCA(D2) were added to the reaction and incubated for 2.5 h at 37°C. RNA was purified via carboxylated magnetic beads (Invitrogen) and RNA concentration and quality were assessed by spectrophotometry and analysis on a 2100 Bionanalyzer (Agilent) .

Consistent with their identification in the screening approach, all of the new sequences showed very similar characteristics compared to 2hBg regarding RNA stability with group I (mtRNR1) as the best (Figure 3; Tab. 3). Importantly, each individual element conferred RNA stabilization compared to the RNA without a 3'-UTR and even compared to the RNA with only a single copy of the Beta-globin element. The translation efficiency was not significantly affected, as observed by the direct correlation between RNA stability and total protein expressed over time.

Example 3: Combination of individual sequence elements

In a further experiment, single sequences of each group were combined with each other in a pair-wise manner (Figure 2). The rationale behind this was our previous observation that the combination of two 3'-UTRs had an additional effect on the stability and translational efficiency of the RNA (Holtkamp et al. 2006). Stability and translational efficiency of the RNA were calculated in R by interpolating the measured Luciferase values with a spline, from which the steepest rising slope was defined as translational efficiency and the half-life of the signal as stability. The integral of the interpolated spline is interpreted as total protein expression. In total 64 combinations were cloned, i.e. all possible combinations of the seven newly identified sequences and of the human beta-globin 3'-UTR (Tab. 6). As described above, RNA was prepared from these template DNAs, and then electroporated in hiDCs. As controls, RNAs containing the individual elements were also included. For the majority of the seven new elements it was observed that at least one combination with another element gives an RNA with a higher stability than with just the single element (Tab. 7 to Tab. 13). Interestingly, in most cases the combination with the I element (mtRNR1) increased the half-life of the RNA. Here, the stability of the RNA was generally even higher compared to an RNA with the 2hBg 3'-UTR (Tab. 7 to Tab. 13). Almost all combinations had a positive effect on the translational efficiency of the RNA. In total, the combined effects on RNA stability and translational efficiency result in an increase of the total protein expression of up to 1.74-fold. Thus, we could identify single elements (with lengths below 233 nucleotides) as well as combinations of two different elements that give rise to RNAs with increased stability and/or translational efficiency, but at the same time avoiding the problems with having two identical copies of one element as described above for 2hBg.

To verify the results obtained with the destabilized form of luciferase, the previous experiments were repeated with RNAs bearing the standard luciferase (Promega), and the following selected 3'-UTRs: mtRNR1 (I), mtRNR1-AES (IF), AES-mtRNR1 (FI), mtRNR1-hBg (IhBg) and hBg-mtRNR1 (IhBg). As shown in Figure 4 and Tab. 14, equivalent results as observed above could be obtained, verifying that the new elements, individually or in combination, increase mRNA stability and/or translational efficiency similarly as the 2hBg element.

Example 4: Analysis of mRNAs bearing selected sequence elements in other cell types

The newly selected 3'-UTRs mtRNR1 and AES were also tested in different cell types and cell lines to see if there is a hiDC-specificity. The sequences were tested in human fibroblasts (HFF), murine myoblasts (C2C12) (Figure 5) and T cells (Figure 6) to assess whether they are also stabilizing in these cells.

HFF and C2C12 cells were harvested and prepared for electroporation. 2.0 μg IVT-RNA were next electroporated together with 1.0 μg GFP encoding RNA containing the indicated 3'UTRs. After electroporation cells were splitted. 5000 cells per well were distributed into a 96-well plate in triplicates for in total 7 time points (2, 4, 8, 24, 48 and 72h) to measure luciferase activity. 2E+05 cells per well were plated into 6-well plates to harvest for FACS after 24h (GFP-signal). This allowed monitoring of transfection efficiencies. These differed between 72 and 90% and could be included into calculation of half-life. Results obtained with HFF and C2C12 as well as T cells confirmed results obtained previously with hiDC. The combination of I with F was in particular 2- to 3-fold better in half-life compared to 2hBg. Moreover, FI showed a 3-fold better translational efficiency in C2C12 cells and a 2-fold better protein production over time compared to our gold-standard. These results showed, that I and F are not hiDC-specific, but do also enhance mRNA stability and translational efficiency in other cells.

Example 5: The FI 3'UTR increases expression from modified mRNA

For some applications, including protein replacement therapy, mRNAs with modified nucleotides are preferable to unmodified ones due to their decreased immunogenicity (Kariko et al., 2008). However, base modifications might have an effect on the stability of an mRNA either by directly influencing the interaction with a corresponding RNA binding protein or by altering secondary structure formation of the RNA. Accordingly, the selected 3' UTRs might behave differently in the context of modified mRNAs. Therefore, we compared the combination of F and I with the 2hBgUTR in the context of mlY modified mRNA in hiDCs, HFFs, CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells and in murine MEFs, C2C12 and bmDCs. As reporter, Luciferase was used (see Figure 7A for construct design). For generation of modified mRNAs, U was completely replaced by mlY in the IVT reaction. In all experiments, unmodified RNA was included as a control. The integrities of the obtained mRNAs were not affected by the exchange of UTP for m1YTP (Figure 7B). Cells were electroporated using the settings described in Tab. 15, and Luciferase levels were measured at 3, 6,

12, 24, 48, 72 and 96h.

Electroporation of unmodified Luciferase mRNA could reproduce the effects seen before: In all cell types the FI element was equal to or superior to the 2hBg control in conveying RNA stability (Tab.l6A). Whereas in murine DCs and human T-cells the mRNA half-lifes were comparable between the two 3'UTR, the FI element increased mRNA half-lifes up to 1.69-fold in HFF cells. The total protein amount was increased in all cell lines, most prominently in HFF cells (2.45 fold).

With modified mRNA, the FI element also led to an increase in mRNA half-life compared to 2hBg in hiDCs, the total protein amount was increased more than two-fold (Tab. 16B). The results in other cell types are also similar to the ones obtained with unmodified mRNA: The FI element was superior to 2hBg in all experiments involving HFF, MEF and C2C12 cells and comparable in T-cells and murine DCs (Tab. 16B). Therefore, U modification does not alter the ability of the FI element to stabilize the mRNA.

Example 6: The FI 3'UTR increases expression from mRNA irrespective of the transfection method

So far, all experiments were done with electroporation as transfection method. With electroporation, the delivered mRNA arrives directly in the cytoplasm, under circumvention of an endosomal uptake route, which is taken upon transfection via lipofection. To see whether the FI element also functions under these conditions, cells were lipofected with the same FI and 2hBg containing Luciferase mRNAs as used in previous experiments using RNAiMAX as a transfection reagent. Also upon lipofection, the FI element increased Luciferase expression, though the increase was less pronounced compared to experiments where the RNA was delivered via electroporation (Tab. 16C). Therefore, the transfection method does not have an impact on the stabilizing effect of the FI element.

Example 7: FI 3'UTR and the 2hBgUTR containing mRNA lead to comparable protein expression and immune activation in vivo.

To assess protein expression from mRNA containing the FI 3'UTR in vivo, the same FI and 2hBg containing Luciferase mRNAs as used in previous experiments were formulated with F12 and administered i.v. into BALB/c mice. As shown in figure 8, luciferase expression was comparable for both 3'UTRs. Antigen specific immune response was also induced to a comparable extent, with the effect of the FI 3'UTR containing mRNA being slightly stronger in the spleen.

Example 8: IF UTR leads to increased stability of self-replicating RNA in vitro.

In vitro transcribed self-replicating RNA (replicon RNA) derived from alphaviral genomes are potent vaccine vectors. Replicon RNA encodes on the first two thirds the enzyme complex necessary for cytoplasmic replication (replicase) of the replicon RNA. This replicase recognizes an internal RNA structure that acts as subgenomic promoter for the replicase-dependent synthesis of subgenomic RNAs. Transgenes or antigens for vaccination are encoded on this subgenomic RNA which is significantly shorter than the whole replicon. Overall, both genomic (i.e. the full length replicon RNA) and subgenomic RNA ressembles cellular mRNA. Both are flanked by UTRs, both are capped and poly-adenylated. The enzymes responsible for capping and poly-adenylation are contained in the replicase enzyme complex. Conserved sequence elements (CSE) within the UTRs - overlapping with the ORF of the replicase in case of the 5'CSE - are required for binding of replicase and act as promoters for minus strand synthesis (3'CSE) or plus-strand synthesis (5'CSE).

To assess whether the novel stabilizing UTRs identified and validated for non-replicating in vitro transcribed mRNA provide greater stability, and thereby higher transgene expression, of replicon RNA, we cloned the respective sequences into replicon RNA template vectors. As the 3'CSE needs to be located immediately adjacent to the poly-A tail we inserted the novel UTRs immediately upstream of the 3'CSE of a replicon encoding destabilized luciferase (Luc2CP). Replicon RNA was synthesized by in vitro transcription of linearized template plasmids similar to IVT mRNA. The replicon RNA was introduced into cells (BHK21 and HFF) by electroporation, and luciferase expression was assessed. As shown in Figure 9, all inserted UTRs increased the translation of Luc2CP in both cell lines used. Interestingly the "IF" UTR combination resulted in an outstanding increase of translation.

Example 9: Nucleotide exchanges up to 90% homology have no impact on the stabilizing properties of the FI element

Due to the selection procedure that was applied to identify novel stabilizing UTR elements, sequences in a certain size range were obtained. The identification of the same sequences with prolonged 5' and 3' ends gave a first indication for the minimal length required. However, the minimal region required for each element to exert its stabilizing effect might be even shorter. In addition, slight variations of the sequences might still be functional, i.e. identity of any individual nucleotide might not be of the utmost importance to the stabilizing properties of the FI element. To see to which degree the elements are robust against nucleotide exchanges, 3' UTR sequences with 97.5%, 95.0%, 92.5% and 90.0% homology to the original FI element were tested for total protein expression and mRNA half-life in hiDCs. The nucleotides that were changed were chosen randomly over the whole sequence length (sequences 208-211, random modifications). Luciferase mRNAs with these modified elements as 3'UTR were in vitro transcribed, electroporated in hiDCs and their expression was followed over time by Luciferase measurements after 3, 6, 24, 48, and 72h. Luciferase mRNAs with the modified FI element yielded the same overall protein amount and had approximately the same half-life (Tab. 17).

In addition to the random substitutions with increasing degrees as described above, another set of modified FI elements were generated by rationally introducing nucleotide substitutions which are likely to disrupt the secondary structure of the FI element. For multiple natural 3' UTR sequences it is known that their secondary structure is of importance because it provides binding sites for regulatory proteins, which influence mRNA stability (Addess et al., 1997; Putland et al., 2002; Crucs et al., 2000; Adams et al., 2003) Two 8nt sequences which are perfectly complementary to each other are present in the FI element, one in the F and the other in the I element (Figure 10). Base pairing of these two regions can also be seen in most mfold predictions. mFold (Zuker, 2003) is a computer program allowing secondary structure predictions of input sequences. To check for the importance of this specific secondary structure element, the sequence was changed in a way that abolishes base pairing (sequence 212, 8nt mutation). Besides this rather long complementary sequences, mfold predictions for the FI 3'UTR were screened for structure elements present in most of the output folds, which should therefore have a high probability of forming in vivo. The nucleotides involved in base-pairing of these folds were changed to 97.5%, 95.0%, 92.5% and 90.0% homology to the original FI sequences by swapping them with their base-pairing partners, thereby retaining the secondary structure of the sequence (sequences 217-220, structure retaining modifications) . In addition, the same sequences were exchanged on only one strand of the double-stranded part, thereby deliberately destroying the secondary structure. In these cases, the identity to the original sequence was 98.75%, 97.50%, 96.25%, and 95.00%, respectively (sequences 213-216, structure destabilizing modifications).

Luciferase RNAs with the described modified 3' UTR elements were in vitro transcribed, electroporated in hiDCs and their expression was followed over time by Luciferase measurements after 3, 6, 24, 48 and 72h.

With neither modification strategy any significant impact on mRNA half-life could be observed. Therefore, the stabilizing properties of the FI element seem to be robust against changes in its nucleotide sequence or secondary structure at least up to 10.0% varied nucleotides. Also, no decline in total protein amount could be observed upon modification of the FI sequence (Tab. 18 A and B).

Example 10: Using the FI element instead of 2hBg avoids mispriming in PCR-based amplification of the RNA-encoding region

As has been shown, the FI element is equal or superior to the 2hBg 3'UTR with regard to mRNA stability and translation efficiency. Another advantage of the FI Element is its non-repetitive sequence, whereas the two copies of the hBg 3'UTR can cause problems in some instances.

This is most obvious, when the DNA template for RNA transcription is amplified by PCR. In such cases, the full-length polyA-tail is added with the 3' primer oligo that binds at the very 3' end of the 3' UTR (Figure 11 A). In the case of the 2hBgUTR, truncated side-products emerge during the PCR, which after sequencing turned out to consist of mRNA with only 1hBg repeat in the UTR (Figure 11 B). After transcription, the truncation is also visible in the mRNA (Figure 11C). This phenomenon occurs in the majority of PCR reactions with constructs containing the 2hBgUTR element and cannot be abolished completely via optimization efforts including primer annealing temperature, buffer composition, primer sequence or alternative polymerases. Even after insertion of an unique linker sequence between the 3' UTR and the polyA-tail, the problem remains. Importantly, the strength of the side-peak correlated with the PCR reaction yield, indicating mispriming of short truncated PCR fragments, which increase with each PCR cycle, as probable cause of the problem. Therefore, no satisfactory conditions could be identified for DNA templates coding for RNAs with the 2hBg 3'-UTR.

In contrast, PCR of DNA templates with the FI element did not yield any truncated side-products (Figure 11 D), and also the resulting mRNA showed no additional peak in the Bioanalyzer profile (Figure 11 E). Therefore, the FI element constitutes a considerable improvement as a 3'UTR compared with the 2hBgUTR with regard to PCR template integrity and corresponding RNA quality.

Example 11: RNA-stabilizing properties of subfragments of the F and I elements

Due to the selection procedure that was applied to identify novel stabilizing UTR elements, sequences in a certain size range were obtained. The identification of the same sequences with prolonged 5' and 3' ends gave a first indication for the minimal length required. However, the minimal region required for each element to exert its stabilizing effect might even be shorter. To this end, for both the F and I element five Luciferase reporter constructs were designed, each containing a shortened UTR covering a different fragment of the original element shortened at the 5' and/or 3' end (see Figure 12 upper panels A and B, respectively) . These reporter constructs were in vitro transcribed, electroporated into hiDCs and their expression was followed over time by Luciferase measurements 3, 6, 24, 48 and 72 h after electroporation. The resulting expression curves were analyzed for relative RNA half-life with the RNA containing the respective full-length set to 1 (see

Figure 12 lower panels A and B, respectively).

For the F-element, no significantly decreased mRNA half-life could be observed for any subsequence tested, indicating a redundant, non-cooperative involvement of various subsequences along the F-element in its stabilizing role. A similar result could be obtained for the I-element, though here a slight drop in performance could be observed when only the central region (nt37-107) was used as 3'UTR.

To put these results into perspective, full length individual F and I elements as well as the FI combination were compared to a randomly selected 3' UTR from the starting library (257nt in length) This was obtained by cloning the starting DNA pool and selecting a single random clone. As described above luciferase-encoding RNAs with the respective UTR sequences were electroporated into hiDCs, luciferase expression measured over time, and the relative half-lifes and total protein expression calculated. Compared to the F, I, and FI elements, the RNA with the randomly selected 3' UTR is significantly less stable (Figure 13, upper panel). The effect of the selected UTRs is even more pronounced for the total protein expression (Figure 13, lower panel). This clearly indicates that the effect of the fragments of the F and I elements as described above are specific for the selected sequences and not simply caused by the presence of a 3' UTR sequence. This is in-line with the observed increase in RNA stability of the pool during selection (see above).

Example 12: Use of stabilizing UTR elements for stem cell reprogramming

40,000 cells were plated into a 12-well-plate and lipofected for three (3x) or four (4x) consecutive days with mRNA mixtures that were composed of 0.33 μg unmodified in vitro transcribed (IVT)-RNA encoding the reprogramming TF OCT4, SOX2, KLF4, cMYC, NANOG and LIN28 (OSKMNL) (1:1:1:1:1:1) with 0.08 μg of each B18R, E3 and K3 (EKB) and 0.17μg of a miRNA mixture composed of miRNAs 302a-d and 367 (1:1:1:1:1:1). The RNA-constructs thereby only differed in their 3'UTR consisting of a tandem repeat of the human β-globin 3'UTR (2hBg), the F-I-element (FI) or I-F-element (IF). Cells were cultivated in human embryonic stem (hES) cell medium and lipofections using RNAiMAX were performed according to the manufacturers instructions. From day 9 on, colony formation was observed and analysis of colonies were performed on dll (see figure 14A for timeline overview). Established colonies were stained for alkaline phosphatase (AP) on day 11 using an AP Staining Kit. For an overview representative stainings are shown in figure 14B. It became obvious that the incorporation of the FI-element results in higher amounts of AP positive colonies (dark). Colonies stained for AP were counted and results from the overview was confirmed: In comparison to the previously used 2hBg-UTR, replacement with the FI-UTR leads to a

3-4 fold excess of colonies when cells were lipofected 3 times. Replacement with the IF-UTR results in an 2 fold excess. With four transfections these effects are less pronounced. No improvement is here observed with the IF-UTR. On one side the process seems to be in a saturation with four transfections whereas on the other side counting of colonies is here to some extent biased due to overgrowth of colonies (see figure 14C). Colony morphology of resulting iPS-cell colonies using RNAs containing the FI-UTR was hES cell-like with tightly packed small cells in distinct colonies and well-defined borders (figure 14D). These colonies could be stained positive for AP (figure 14E) and the hES cell surface marker TRA-1-60 (figure 14F). TRA-1-60 live staining was performed with the Stain-Alive TRA-1-60 antibody (Stemgent) according to the manufacturers instructions. Representative pictures of colonies are shown. To further assess pluripotency of colonies, cells were pelleted, total RNA isolated and mRNA-expression of the hES-markers OCT4 (endogenous), NANOG (endogenous), LIN28 (endogenous), TERT and REX1 was quantified by qRT-PCR. mRNA expression was normalized to that of HPRT and is shown as fold induction compared to the transcript levels of input cells. Analysis of colonies after 3 lipofections is shown in figure 14G. All analyzed markers were highly expressed compared to input cells indicating pluripotency of reprogrammed cells. Superiority of FI-containing synthetic mRNA was confirmed by a higher endogenous marker expression compared to reprogramming with the 2hBg- and IF-containing mRNAs.

These results show, that replacement of the 2hBg-UTR with the FI-UTR results in a more rapid and efficient RNA-based reprogramming technology. This is probably based on the longer and higher expression of reprogramming transcription factors resulting from the substitution with the FI-element. Orientation of the FI element seems thereby indispensable since the benefit was not observed with the IF-constructs. Successful reprogramming of cells by FI-containing mRNAs was confirmed by hES-cell like morphology, AP-activity and the expression of hES-cell surface and endogenous markers of resulting iPS-cell colonies.

TABLES

Tab. 1 mRNA half-life in hours (h) calculated from data of real-time reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) experiments to monitor progress of selection. mRNAs were quantified 8, 24, and 48 hours after electroporation. In experiment I (left), each sample was analysed only once. Accordingly, no standard deviation is given.

Tab. 2 Overview of the 7 main groups with the binding region (BR) within the 3'-UTR of the BLASTed sequence. Shown are group abbreviation, number of clones identified for the group (no.), genomic origin with respective abbreviation (Abbr.), NCBI code and position within the sequence with respect to the coding region. According to NextBio all sequences are upregulated in hiDC.

Tab. 3 Values calculated relative to our gold-standard 2hBg for half-life and total protein over time. Shown are group-name and respective gene.

Tab. 4 PCR-conditions for amplification of library and subsequent selection rounds.

Tab. 5 IVT-T7-transcription reaction.

Tab. 6 Combinations cloned and compared with our gold- standard 2hBg (lower right corner). Single elements cloned twice are highlighted.

Tab. 7 Result of FCGRT (group B) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are > 1.0. Values are relative to 2hBg

Tab. 8 Result of LSP1 (group D) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are > 1.0. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 9 Result of CCL22 (group E) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are > 1.0. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 10 Result of AES (group F) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are > 1.0. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 11 Result of PLD3 (group G) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are > 1.0. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 12 Result of mtRNR1 (group I) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 13 Result of HLA-DRB4 (group J) cloned as single or upstream element combined with one of the other group sequences as downstream element. Bold values are > 1.0. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 14 Representative results using luc2mut as reporter gene and newly selected 3'-UTRs after electroporation into hiDC. Luciferase activity was measured over 96h. Values are relative to 2hBg.

Tab. 15: Electroporation settings

The table summarizes the details of the electroporation protocol for all cell types used. The amount of cells stated under cell count was mixed with the amount of RNA stated either in μg or pmol either in electroporation cuvettes or 96-well electroporation plates (as indicated under format) in X-VIV015 media (Lonza). Electroporation was performed by applying a pulse with the designated length and the voltage listed under V. Afterwards, the cell suspension was diluted in growth medium and distributed in 96-wells with the density listed under cells/time point.

Tab. 16

Half-lifes and total protein of Fl-element relative to 2hBgUTR containing unmodified and modified mRNA upon electroporation and unmodified RNA upon lipofection.

Plasmids coding for the firefly luciferase gene containing either FI or 2hBg as 3'UTR were linearized downstream of the poly(dA:dT) with a classIIS restriction enzyme thereby generating a template with no additional nucleotide past the poly(dA:dT). Linearized plasmid DNA was purified using carboxylated magnetic beads (Invitrogen), quantified spectrophotometrically and subjected to in vitro transcriptions. For in vitro transcriptions home-made T7 RNA polymerase supplemented with RNase inhibitors and pyrophosphatase was used with 7.5mM NTPs in a 125mM Hepes pH 8.35, 34mM MgOAc2, 10mM DTT and 2mM Spermidin buffer. For efficient capping of the RNA 6 mM of β-S-ARCA (D2) was added to the reaction and the initial GTP concentration was lowered to 1.5 mM, which was adjusted to 7.5mM in a fed-batch process during 2.5h at 37°C. RNA was purified via carboxylated magnetic beads (Invitrogen) and RNA concentration and quality were assessed by spectrophotometry and analysis on a 2100 Bioanalyzer (Agilent).

A) Shows that the Half-lifes of unmodified mRNAs containing the FI element are higher or comparable to those containing the 2hBg 3'UTR in several human and murine cell lines. The amount of human fibroblasts (HFFs), CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells, murine embryonic fibroblast (MEF), myoblastoma cells (C2C12) and murine DCs as listed in Tab. 15 were mixed with the respective amount of RNA (Tab. 15) in X-VIV015 media (Lonza) and subjected to electroporation. The indicated number of cells was plated in 96 well dishes in 100μl of appropriate growth medium with additives. At 2, 6, 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours after seeding firefly luciferase activities were determined by addition of Luciferin (Promega) in a fluorescence reader (TECAN).

B) Shows that the Half-lifes of m1Y modified mRNAs containing the FI element are higher or comparable to those containing the 2hBg 3'UTR in different human and murine cell lines. The amount of human immature dendritic cells (iDC), fibroblasts (HFFs), CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells, murine embryonic fibroblast (MEF), myoblastoma cells (C2C12) and murine DCs as listed in Tab. 15 were mixed with the respective amount of mlY modified RNA (Tab. 15) in X-VIV015 media (Lonza) and subjected to electroporation. The indicated number of cells was plated in 96 well dishes in 100μl of appropriate growth medium with additives. At 2, 6, 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours after seeding firefly luciferase activities were determined by addition of Luciferin (Promega) in a fluorescence reader (TECAN).

C) Shows that the Half-lifes of unmodified mRNAs containing the FI element are higher or comparable to those containing the 2hBg 3'UTR in different cell lines also when the RNA was transfected via lipofection.

50ng RNA was incubated for 15-30min with 0.2μl RNAiMAX and given on 1E04 HFF, MEF or C2C12 cells in 96wells. Luciferase levels were measured at 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 72 and 96h by addition of Luciferin (Promega) in a fluorescence reader (TECAN).

Tab. 17: 10μg RNA coding for firefly luciferase containing either the FI element or variations of the FI element with the designated homology to the original FI sequence as 3'UTRs were electroporated into hiDCs in a 96-well format. Luciferase expression was followed over time at 3, 6, 24, 48, and 72h, and from the resulting expression curve the mRNA half-life and the total protein amount translated from the RNA were calculated .

Tab. 18: 10μg RNA coding for firefly luciferase containing either the FI element or variations of the FI element containing structure retaining or destroying mutations and with the designated homology to the original FI sequence as 3'UTRs were electroporated in hiDCs in a 96-well format. Luciferase expression was followed over time at 3, 6, 24, 48, and 72h, and from the resulting expression curve the mRNA half-life and the total protein amount were calculated.

Sequences described herein are as follows:

Group B

>Rn5-2p1-A4_For2

>Rn5-2p1-A3_For2

>Rn5C5_For2

>Rn5E6_For2

>Rn6-1WoC3_For2

>Rn6-1WoB12_For2

>Rn6-1WoB1_For2

>Rn6-1WoF3 For2

>Rn6-1Wo_H11_b

>Rn6-2WoG8_b

>Rn5-2p1-B3_For2

>Rn5_F5_b

>Rn5B8_For2

>Rn6-1WoH9_For2

>Rn6-2WoC11_For2

>Rn5_C3_b

>Rn6-2WoH5_For2

>Rn6-96hE12_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-E9_F

>Rn6-96h-2p1-H10_

>Rn6-1WoB11_For2

>Rn6-1WoF7WFor2

>Rn6-1WoA7_For2

>Rn6-2WoD11_b

>Rn6-2WoG3_For2

>Rn6-2WoC2_For2

>Rn6-1WoD6_For2

>Rn6-1WoD10_For2

>Rn6-2WoG5_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-G8_F

>Rn6-1WoE7_For2

>Rn6-1Wo_A12_b

>Rn6-1WoG11_For2

>Rn6-1WoH5_For2

>Rn6-1WoH4_For2

>Rn6-2WoB4_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-A5_F

>Rn6-1WoC8_For2

>Rn5D1_For2

>Rn6-2WoG10_For2

>Rn6-1Wo_E4_b

>Rn6-2WoF3_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-B10

>Rn6-96h-2p1-C10

>Rn6-1WoB6_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-D6_F

>Rn6-96h-2p1-E6_F

>Rn6-2WoF10_For2

>Rn6-1WoG9_For2

>Rn6-96hC12_For2

Group D

>Rn6-1WoF2_For2

>Rn6-2WoD8_For2

>Rn6-1WoD5_For2

>Rn5-2p1-D3_For2

>Rn6-2WoA8_For2

>Rn6-2WoD7_For2

>Rn6-2WoB8_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-H6_F

>Rn6-96h-2p1-F10

>Rn5H3_For2

>Rn5G7_For2

>Rn6-1WoG5_For2

>Rn6-1WoA8_For2

>Rn6-96h_D3_b

>Rn6-96hC11_For2

>Rn5H1_For2

>Rn6-1WoG2_For2

>Rn6-1WoG7_For2

>Rn6-96hB11_For2

>Rn6-2WoF8_For2

>Rn6-96h_A9_b

>Rn6-1WoH3_For2

Group E

>Rn6-2WoE2_For2

>Rn6-1WoD3_For2

>Rn6-2WoG7_For2

>Rn6-2WoH2_For2

>Rn6-2WoC1_For2

>Rn6-1Wo_C12_b

>Rn6-1WoE12_For2

>Rn6-2WoF5_For2

>Rn5-2p1-H3_For2

>Rn6-2WoA3_For2

>Rn6-96hF12_For2

>Rn6-96hE11__or2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-A11

Group F

>Rn6-1WoB5__For2

>Rn6-2WoE11_a

>Rn6-96h_E3_b

>Rn6-96h-2p1-B6_F

Group G

>Rn5_D5_b

>Rn5B2_For2

>Rn5G3_For2

>Rn6-96hF11_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-D8_F

>Rn5C4_For2

>Rn6-2WoD3_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-C6_F

>Rn6-96h-2p1-C7_F

>Rn6-96h-2p1-F8_F

>Rn6-96hH9_For2

>Rn5_F10_b

>Rn6-2WoF11_For2

>Rn6-1WoA9_For2

>Rn6-1WoF9_For2

Group I

>Rn5_A7_b

>Rn5_B6_b

>Rn5D4_For2

>Rn5D2_For2

>Rn6-1Wo_D7_b

>Rn6-96h-2p1-A9_F

>Rn6-2WoH3_For2

>Rn6-96hG11_For2

>Rn5E1_For2

>Rn6-1WoA11_For2

>Rn6-2WoE7_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-B5_F

>Rn5H2_For2

>Rn6-lWoF11_For2

>Rn6-2WoB11_For2

>Rn6-1WoA3_For2

>Rn6-1Wo_D2_b

Group J

>Rn5A1_For2

>Rn5B1_For2

>Rn5_A10_b

>Rn5_G1_b

>Rn6-1WoF5_For2

>Rn6-2WoA5_For2

>Rn6-2WoA7_For2

>Rn6-2WoG2_For2

>Rn6-2WoH10_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-G7_F

>Rn5-2p1-B2_For2

>Rn5-2p1-D1_For2

>Rn6-1WoA5_For2

>Rn6-1Wo_G10_b

>Rn6-2WoE4_For2

>Rn6-96hG12_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-C12

>Rn6-96h-2p1-A6_F

>Rn6-96h-2p1-H5_F

>Rn6-2WoG1_For2

>Rn6-96h-2p1-D11

>Rn6-96h-2p1-F9_F

>hBg:

noUTR:

>

>BB

>BD

>BE

>BF

>BG

>BhBB

>BI

>BJ

>DB

>DD

>DE

>DF

>DG

>DhBg

>DI

>DJ

>EB

>ED

>EE

>EF

>EG

>EhBg

>EI

>EJ

>FB

>FD

>FE

>FF

>FG

>FhBg

>FIB

>FJ

>GB

>GD

>GE

>GF

>FG

>GhBg

>GI

>GJ

>hBgB

>hBgD

ghBgE

>hBgF

>hBgG

>hBghBg

>hBgI

>hBgJ

>IB

>ID

>IE

>IF

>IG

>IhBg

>II

>IJ

>JB

>JD

>JE

>JF

>JG

>JhBg

>JI

>JJ

>FI UTR 97,5% homology (random modifications)

>FI UTR 95% homology (random modifications)

>FI UTR 92,5% homology (random modifications)

>FI UTR 90% homology (random modifications)

>FI 8nt mutatton

>FI UTR 98.75% homology (structure destabilizing modifications)

>FI UTR 97.5% homology (structure destabilizing modifications)

>FI UTR 96.25% homology (structure destabilizing modifications)

>FI UTR 95% homology (structure destabilizing modifications)

>FI UTR 97,5% homology (structure retaining modifications)

>FI UTR 95% (structure retaining modifications)

>FI UTR 92,5% (strrcture retaining modifications)

>FI UTR 90% (structure retaining modifications)