Vaccines based on mRNA have emerged as potent systems to elicit CD8+ T cell responses against various cancers and viral infectious diseases. The efficient intracellular delivery of mRNA molecules encoding antigens into the cytosol of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) is still challenging, requiring cell attachment, active uptake, and subsequent endosomal escape. Here, we report a facile approach for the formulation of peptide-functionalized mRNA polyplexes using copper-free click chemistry to promote presentation of mRNA antigen by dendritic cells (DCs). After screening different membrane active peptides, GALA modified mRNA polyplexes (PPx-GALA) with a size around 350 nm and with a slightly negative surface charge (-7 mV), exhibited the highest EGFP-mRNA transfection in RAW 246.7 macrophages (∼36%) and D1 dendritic cells (∼50%) as compared to polyplexes decorated with melittin or LEDE peptides. Interestingly, we found that PPx-GALA enters DCs through sialic acid mediated endo/phagocytosis, which was not influenced by DC maturation. The PPx-GALA formulation exhibited 18-fold higher cellular uptake compared to a lipofectamine mRNA formulation without inducing cytotoxicity. Live cell imaging showed that PPx-GALA that were taken up by endocytosis induced calcein release from endosomes into the cytosol. DCs treated with PPx-GALA containing mRNA encoding for OVA displayed enhanced T cell responses and DC maturation. Collectively, these data provide a strong rationale for further study of this PPx-GALA formulation in vivo as a promising mRNA vaccine platform.
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