Nanoparticles coated with oligonucleotides, also termed spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), are at the forefront of scientific research and have been applied in vitro and in vivo for sensing, gene regulation, and drug delivery. They demonstrate unique properties stemming from the three-dimensional shell of oligonucleotides and present high cellular uptake. However, their resistance to enzymatic degradation is highly dependent on their physicochemical characteristics. In particular, the oligonucleotide loading of SNAs has been determined to be a critical parameter in SNA design. In order to ensure the successful function of SNAs, the degree of oligonucleotide loading has to be quantitatively determined to confirm that a dense oligonucleotide shell has been achieved. However, this can be time-consuming and may lead to multiple syntheses being required to achieve the necessary degree of surface functionalization. In this work we show how this limitation can be overcome by introducing an oligonucleotide modification. By replacing the phosphodiester bond on the oligonucleotide backbone with a phosphorothioate bond, SNAs even with a low DNA loading showed remarkable stability in the presence of nucleases. Furthermore, these chemically modified SNAs exhibited high selectivity and specificity toward the detection of mRNA in cellulo.
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