Phosphorothioate backbone modification modulates macrophage activation by CpG DNA

D P Sester, S Naik, S J Beasley, D A Hume, K J Stacey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Macrophages respond to unmethylated CpG motifs present in nonmammalian DNA. Stabilized phosphorothioate-modified oligodeoxynucleotides (PS-ODN) containing CpG motifs form the basis of immunotherapeutic agents. In this study, we show that PS-ODN do not perfectly mimic native DNA in activation of macrophages. CpG-containing PS-ODN were active at 10- to 100-fold lower concentrations than corresponding phosphodiester ODN in maintenance of cell viability in the absence of CSF-1, in induction of NO production, and in activation of the IL-12 promoter. These enhancing effects are attributable to both increased stability and rate of uptake of the PS-ODN. By contrast, PS-ODN were almost inactive in down-modulation of the CSF-1R from primary macrophages and activation of the HIV-1 LTR. Delayed or poor activation of signaling components may contribute to this, as PS-ODN were slower and less effective at inducing phosphorylation of the extracellular signal-related kinases 1 and 2. In addition, at high concentrations, non-CpG PS-ODN specifically inhibited responses to CpG DNA, whereas nonstimulatory phosphodiester ODN had no such effect. Although nonstimulatory PS-ODN caused some inhibition of ODN uptake, this did not adequately explain the levels of inhibition of activity. The results demonstrate that the phosphorothioate backbone has both enhancing and inhibitory effects on macrophage responses to CpG DNA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4165-73
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2000


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Down-Regulation
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • HIV Long Terminal Repeat
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-12
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages
  • Mice
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides
  • Organophosphates
  • Phosphorylation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Thionucleotides
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha


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