Stronger together for in-cell translation: natural and unnatural base modified mRNA†
The preparation of highly modified mRNAs and visualization of their cellular distribution are challenging. We report in-cell application of in vitro transcribed mRNA containing natural base modifications and site-specifically introduced artificial nucleotides. Click chemistry on mRNA allows visualization in cells with excellent signal intensities. While non-specific introduction of reporter groups often leads to loss in mRNA functionality, we combined the benefits from site-specificity in the 3′-UTR incorporated unnatural nucleotides with the improved translation efficiency of the natural base modifications Ψ and 5mC. A series of experiments is described to observe, quantify and verify mRNA functionality. This approach represents a new way to visualize mRNA delivery into cells and monitor its spread on a cellular level and translation efficiency. We observed increased protein expression from this twofold chemically modified, artificial mRNA counterbalancing a reduced transfection rate. This synergetic effect can be exploited as a powerful tool for future research on mRNA therapeutics.