Aleksandra Dondalska, Department of Molecular Biosciences, Stockholm University


Anna-Lena Spetz, Department of Molecular Biosciences, Stockholm University


Jenny Hallgren Martinsson, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University 


Annelie Tjernlund, Department of Medicine, Solna Center for Molecular Medicine, CMM, Karolinska Institutet

Susanna Cardell, Department of Biomedicine, Univeristy of Gothenburg

Niklas Björkström, Department of Medicine, Huddinge, Karolinska Institutet


Harnessing the immunoregulatory capacity of single-stranded oligonucleotides to modulate innate immunity


As the first line of defense, the innate immune system is exceptionally efficacious against invading pathogens but must be tightly regulated to avoid immune-related pathogenesis. Accordingly, the innate immune system recognizes highly conserved components associated with infections and damaged cells using a limited number of pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs), which are differentially expressed across cell types. Importantly, tissue damage and viral infections can induce the release and production of nucleic acids, which can be sensed by nucleic-acid sensing Toll-like-receptors (TLRs), a subset of PRRs located in cellular endosomes that encompass the receptors TLR3,7,8 or 9. It is imperative that these receptors can differentiate “self” nucleic acids from “non-self” in order to avoid autoimmune reactions. However, increasing data has shown that over-active signaling from these receptors can contribute to TLR-mediated inflammatory and auto-immune consequences.

Previously, a 35 bases long single-stranded oligonucleotide (ssON) was revealed to inhibit TLR3 activation in dendritic cells (DCs). Hence, the research presented in this thesis aims to harness the capacity of certain immunosuppressive oligonucleotides to modulate the innate immune response to inflammation and viral infection. In Paper I we demonstrated that ssON inhibits certain receptor-mediated endocytosis, thereby preventing activation from TLR3/4/7 signaling endosomes Additionally, ssON modulated TLR3-mediated activation in vivo in the skin. Therefore, in Paper II, we further assessed ssON’s effect on prominent symptoms of inflammatory skin disorders. We demonstrated that ssON inhibits non- IgE-mediated degranulation of mast cells induced by certain ligands of the pseudo-allergic receptor MRGPRX2, thereby alleviating the respective downstream itch and inflammation.

There is currently an urgent need to develop new broad-spectrum antivirals against acute respiratory tract infections, which at present remain the deadliest communicable diseases. Since ssON inhibits clathrin-mediated and caveolin- dependent endocytosis, which are cellular entry pathways utilized by many viruses, we investigated ssON’s potential as an anti-viral agent against two major respiratory viruses. In Paper III we aimed to assess the effect of ssON on influenza A virus (IAV) infection. We demonstrated that ssON inhibits the infection of IAV, and more specifically the pandemic H1N1, in vitro in DCs and reduces viral load and disease in murine models of IAV infection. In Paper IV we aimed to assess the anti-viral capacity of ssON on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. We discovered that ssON acts as an efficient antiviral agent against RSV in vitro, seemingly by competing with the virus for binding to the entry receptor nucleolin. Additionally, ssON inhibits viral infection in vivo in a murine model of RSV infection, and the combination of ssON treatment and RSV infection leads to an upregulation of immune-related genes in the lungs, which most likely aid in viral clearance.

In summary, the research presented in this thesis uncovers novel immunomodulatory functions of synthetic, noncoding ssONs to modulate the innate immune responses in the context pseudo- allergic itch and inflammation as well as in IAV and RSV infection. Furthermore, these studies unveil prospective therapeutic possibilities for ssON as an antiviral agent or as a treatment for certain inflammatory dermatoses.

Keywords: single-stranded oligonucleotides, Toll-like receptors, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, dendritic cell, mast cell, virus infection, inflammation, itch.

You are more than welcome to participate via Zoom. Meeting ID: 630 6322 9647.