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1.  Subnanomolar antisense activity of phosphonate-peptide nucleic acid (PNA) conjugates delivered by cationic lipids to HeLa cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(13):4424-4432.
In the search of facile and efficient methods for cellular delivery of peptide nucleic acids (PNA), we have synthesized PNAs conjugated to oligophosphonates via phosphonate glutamine and bis-phosphonate lysine amino acid derivatives thereby introducing up to twelve phosphonate moieties into a PNA oligomer. This modification of the PNA does not interfere with the nucleic acid target binding affinity based on thermal stability of the PNA/RNA duplexes. When delivered to cultured HeLa pLuc705 cells by Lipofectamine, the PNAs showed dose-dependent nuclear antisense activity in the nanomolar range as inferred from induced luciferase activity as a consequence of pre-mRNA splicing correction by the antisense-PNA. Antisense activity depended on the number of phosphonate moieties and the most potent hexa-bis-phosphonate-PNA showed at least 20-fold higher activity than that of an optimized PNA/DNA hetero-duplex. These results indicate that conjugation of phosphonate moieties to the PNA can dramatically improve cellular delivery mediated by cationic lipids without affecting on the binding affinity and sequence discrimination ability, exhibiting EC50 values down to one nanomolar. Thus the intracellular efficacy of PNA oligomers rival that of siRNA and the results therefore emphasize that provided sufficient in vivo bioavailability of PNA can be achieved these molecules may be developed into potent gene therapeutic drugs.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkn401
PMCID: PMC2490735  PMID: 18596083
2.  Chemical structure requirements and cellular targeting of microRNA-122 by peptide nucleic acids anti-miRs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(5):2152-2167.
Anti-miRs are oligonucleotide inhibitors complementary to miRNAs that have been used extensively as tools to gain understanding of specific miRNA functions and as potential therapeutics. We showed previously that peptide nucleic acid (PNA) anti-miRs containing a few attached Lys residues were potent miRNA inhibitors. Using miR-122 as an example, we report here the PNA sequence and attached amino acid requirements for efficient miRNA targeting and show that anti-miR activity is enhanced substantially by the presence of a terminal-free thiol group, such as a Cys residue, primarily due to better cellular uptake. We show that anti-miR activity of a Cys-containing PNA is achieved by cell uptake through both clathrin-dependent and independent routes. With the aid of two PNA analogues having intrinsic fluorescence, thiazole orange (TO)-PNA and [bis-o-(aminoethoxy)phenyl]pyrrolocytosine (BoPhpC)-PNA, we explored the subcellular localization of PNA anti-miRs and our data suggest that anti-miR targeting of miR-122 may take place in or associated with endosomal compartments. Our findings are valuable for further design of PNAs and other oligonucleotides as potent anti-miR agents.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkr885
PMCID: PMC3300011  PMID: 22070883
3.  Down-regulation of MDM2 and activation of p53 in human cancer cells by antisense 9-aminoacridine–PNA (peptide nucleic acid) conjugates 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(16):4893-4902.
A series of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligomers targeting the mdm2 oncogene mRNA has been tested for the ability to inhibit the growth of JAR cells. The effect of these PNAs on the cells was also reflected in reduced levels of the MDM2 protein and increased levels of the p53 tumor suppressor protein, which is negatively regulated by MDM2. Initially, PNA oligomers were delivered as DNA complexes with lipofectamine, but it was discovered that PNA conjugated to the DNA intercalator 9-aminoacridine (Acr) (Acr–PNA) could be effectively delivered to JAR cells (as well as to HeLa pLuc705 cells) even in the absence of a DNA carrier. Using such lipofectamine-delivered Acr–PNA conjugates, one PNA targeting a cryptic AUG initiation site was identified that at a concentration of 2 μM caused a reduction of MDM2 levels to ∼20% (but no reduction in mdm2 mRNA levels) and a 3-fold increase in p53 levels, whereas a 2-base mismatch control had no such effects. Furthermore, transcriptional activation by p53 was also increased (6-fold), and cell viability was reduced to 80%. Finally, this PNA acted cooperatively with camptothecin treatment both with regard to p53 activity induction as well as cell viability. Using this novel cell delivery system, we have identified a target on the mdm2 mRNA that appears sensitive to antisense inhibition by PNA and therefore could be used as a lead for further development of mdm2-targeted antisense (PNA and other) gene therapeutic anticancer drugs.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkh820
PMCID: PMC519114  PMID: 15371552
4.  Both mature miR-17-5p and passenger strand miR-17-3p target TIMP3 and induce prostate tumor growth and invasion 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(21):9688-9704.
MicroRNAs (miRNA) precursor (pre-miRNA) molecules can be processed to release a miRNA/miRNA* duplex. In the canonical model of miRNA biogenesis, one strand of the duplex is thought to be the biologically active miRNA, whereas the other strand is thought to be inactive and degraded as a carrier or passenger strand called miRNA* (miRNA star). However, recent studies have revealed that miRNA* strands frequently play roles in the regulatory networks of miRNA target molecules. Our recent study indicated that miR-17 transgenic mice could abundantly express both the mature miR-17-5p and the passenger strand miR-17-3p. Here, we showed that miR-17 enhanced prostate tumor growth and invasion by increasing tumor cell proliferation, colony formation, cell survival and invasion. miRNA target analysis showed that both miR-17-5p and miR-17-3p repressed TIMP metallopeptidase inhibitor 3 (TIMP3) expression. Silencing with small interfering RNA against TIMP3 promoted cell survival and invasion. Ectopic expression of TIMP3 decreased cell invasion and cell survival. Our results demonstrated that mature miRNA can function coordinately with its passenger strand, enhancing the repressive ability of a miRNA by binding the same target. Within an intricate regulatory network, this may be among the mechanisms by which miRNA can augment their regulatory capacity.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt680
PMCID: PMC3834805  PMID: 23990326
5.  Modulation of mdm2 pre-mRNA splicing by 9-aminoacridine-PNA (peptide nucleic acid) conjugates targeting intron-exon junctions 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:342.
Background
Modulation of pre-mRNA splicing by antisense molecules is a promising mechanism of action for gene therapeutic drugs. In this study, we have examined the potential of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) 9-aminoacridine conjugates to modulate the pre-mRNA splicing of the mdm2 human cancer gene in JAR cells.
Methods
We screened 10 different 15 mer PNAs targeting intron2 at both the 5' - and the 3'-splice site for their effects on the splicing of mdm2 using RT-PCR analysis. We also tested a PNA (2512) targeting the 3'-splice site of intron3 with a complementarity of 4 bases to intron3 and 11 bases to exon4 for its splicing modulation effect. This PNA2512 was further tested for the effects on the mdm2 protein level as well as for inhibition of cell growth in combination with the DNA damaging agent camptothecin (CPT).
Results
We show that several of these PNAs effectively inhibit the splicing thereby producing a larger mRNA still containing intron2, while skipping of exon3 was not observed by any of these PNAs. The most effective PNA (PNA2406) targeting the 3'-splice site of intron2 had a complementarity of 4 bases to intron2 and 11 bases to exon3. PNA (2512) targeting the 3'-splice site of intron3 induced both splicing inhibition (intron3 skipping) and skipping of exon4. Furthermore, treatment of JAR cells with this PNA resulted in a reduction in the level of MDM2 protein and a concomitant increase in the level of tumor suppressor p53. In addition, a combination of this PNA with CPT inhibited cell growth more than CPT alone.
Conclusion
We have identified several PNAs targeting the 5'- or 3'-splice sites in intron2 or the 3'-splice site of intron3 of mdm2 pre-mRNA which can inhibit splicing. Antisense targeting of splice junctions of mdm2 pre-mRNA may be a powerful method to evaluate the cellular function of MDM2 splice variants as well as a promising approach for discovery of mdm2 targeted anticancer drugs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-342
PMCID: PMC2910690  PMID: 20591158
6.  Targeted Inhibition of miRNA Maturation with Morpholinos Reveals a Role for miR-375 in Pancreatic Islet Development 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(8):e203.
Several vertebrate microRNAs (miRNAs) have been implicated in cellular processes such as muscle differentiation, synapse function, and insulin secretion. In addition, analysis of Dicer null mutants has shown that miRNAs play a role in tissue morphogenesis. Nonetheless, only a few loss-of-function phenotypes for individual miRNAs have been described to date. Here, we introduce a quick and versatile method to interfere with miRNA function during zebrafish embryonic development. Morpholino oligonucleotides targeting the mature miRNA or the miRNA precursor specifically and temporally knock down miRNAs. Morpholinos can block processing of the primary miRNA (pri-miRNA) or the pre-miRNA, and they can inhibit the activity of the mature miRNA. We used this strategy to knock down 13 miRNAs conserved between zebrafish and mammals. For most miRNAs, this does not result in visible defects, but knockdown of miR-375 causes defects in the morphology of the pancreatic islet. Although the islet is still intact at 24 hours postfertilization, in later stages the islet cells become scattered. This phenotype can be recapitulated by independent control morpholinos targeting other sequences in the miR-375 precursor, excluding off-target effects as cause of the phenotype. The aberrant formation of the endocrine pancreas, caused by miR-375 knockdown, is one of the first loss-of-function phenotypes for an individual miRNA in vertebrate development. The miRNA knockdown strategy presented here will be widely used to unravel miRNA function in zebrafish.
Author Summary
The striking tissue-specific expression patterns of microRNAs (miRNAs) suggest that they play a role in tissue development. These small RNA molecules (∼22 bases in length) are processed from long primary transcripts (pri-miRNA) and regulate gene expression at the posttranscriptional level. There are hundreds of different miRNAs, many of which are strongly conserved. Vertebrate embryonic development is most easily studied in zebrafish, but genetically disrupting miRNA genes to see which miRNA does what is technically challenging. In this study, we interfere with miRNA function during the first few days of zebrafish embryonic development by introducing specific antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (morpholinos have been used previously to interfere with the synthesis of the much larger mRNAs). We show that morpholinos targeting the miRNA precursor can block processing of the pri-miRNA or directly inhibit the activity of the mature miRNA. We also used morpholinos to study the developmental effects of miRNA knockdown. Although we did not observe gross phenotypic defects for many miRNAs, we found that zebrafish miR-375 is essential for formation of the insulin-secreting pancreatic islet. Loss of miR-375 results in dispersed islet cells by 36 hours postfertilization, representing one of the first vertebrate miRNA loss-of-function phenotypes.
The authors show that morpholinos can be used to knock down zebrafish miRNAs, revealing that miR-375 is important for vertebrate pancreas development.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050203
PMCID: PMC1925136  PMID: 17676975
7.  Antiproliferative effect in chronic myeloid leukaemia cells by antisense peptide nucleic acids 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(17):3712-3721.
Peptide nucleic acid (PNA) is a synthetic DNA analogue that is resistant to nucleases and proteases and binds with exceptional affinity to RNA. Because of these properties PNA has the potential to become a powerful therapeutic agent to be used in vivo. Until now, however, the use of PNA in vivo has not been much investigated. Here, we have attempted to reduce the expression of the bcr/abl oncogene in chronic myeloid leukaemia KYO-1 cells using a 13mer PNA sequence (asPNA) designed to hybridise to the b2a2 junction of bcr/abl mRNA. To enhance cellular uptake asPNA was covalently linked to the basic peptide VKRKKKP (NLS-asPNA). Moreover, to investigate the cellular uptake by confocal microscopy, both PNAs were linked by their N-terminus to fluorescein (FL). Studies of uptake, carried out at 4 and 37°C on living KYO-1 cells stained with hexidium iodide, showed that both NLS-asPNA-FL and asPNA-FL were taken up by the cells, through a receptor-independent mechanism. The intracellular amount of NLS-asPNA-FL was about two to three times higher than that of asPNA-FL. Using a semi-quantitative RT– PCR technique we found that 10 µM asPNA and NLS-asPNA reduced the level of b2a2 mRNA in KYO-1 cells to 20 ± 5% and 60 ± 10% of the control, respectively. Western blot analysis showed that asPNA promoted a significant inhibition of p210BCR/ABL protein: residual protein measured in cells exposed for 48 h to asPNA was ∼35% of the control. Additionally, asPNA impaired cell growth to 50 ± 5% of the control and inhibited completion of the cell cycle. In summary, these results demonstrate that a PNA 13mer is taken up by KYO-1 cells and is capable of producing a significant and specific down-regulation of the bcr/abl oncogene involved in leukaemogenesis.
PMCID: PMC137404  PMID: 12202756
8.  Efficient splicing correction by PNA conjugation to an R6-Penetratin delivery peptide 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(13):4495-4502.
Sequence-specific interference with the nuclear pre-mRNA splicing machinery has received increased attention as an analytical tool and for development of therapeutics. It requires sequence-specific and high affinity binding of RNaseH-incompetent DNA mimics to pre-mRNA. Peptide nucleic acids (PNA) or phosphoramidate morpholino oligonucleotides (PMO) are particularly suited as steric block oligonucleotides in this respect. However, splicing correction by PNA or PMO conjugated to cell penetrating peptides (CPP), such as Tat or Penetratin, has required high concentrations (5–10 μM) of such conjugates, unless an endosomolytic agent was added to increase escape from endocytic vesicles. We have focused on the modification of existing CPPs to search for peptides able to deliver more efficiently splice correcting PNA or PMO to the nucleus in the absence of endosomolytic agents. We describe here R6-Penetratin (in which arginine-residues were added to the N-terminus of Penetratin) as the most active of all CPPs tested so far in a splicing correction assay in which masking of a cryptic splice site allows expression of a luciferase reporter gene. Efficient and sequence-specific correction occurs at 1 μM concentration of the R6Pen–PNA705 conjugate as monitored by luciferase luminescence and by RT-PCR. Some aspects of the R6Pen–PNA705 structure–function relationship have also been evaluated.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkm418
PMCID: PMC1934994  PMID: 17584792
9.  Efficient inhibition of miR-155 function in vivo by peptide nucleic acids 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(13):4466-4475.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play an important role in diverse physiological processes and are potential therapeutic agents. Synthetic oligonucleotides (ONs) of different chemistries have proven successful for blocking miRNA expression. However, their specificity and efficiency have not been fully evaluated. Here, we show that peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) efficiently block a key inducible miRNA expressed in the haematopoietic system, miR-155, in cultured B cells as well as in mice. Remarkably, miR-155 inhibition by PNA in primary B cells was achieved in the absence of any transfection agent. In mice, the high efficiency of the treatment was demonstrated by a strong overlap in global gene expression between B cells isolated from anti-miR-155 PNA-treated and miR-155-deficient mice. Interestingly, PNA also induced additional changes in gene expression. Our analysis provides a useful platform to aid the design of efficient and specific anti-miRNA ONs for in vivo use.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkq160
PMCID: PMC2910044  PMID: 20223773
10.  Cellular Uptakes, Biostabilities and Anti-miR-210 Activities of Chiral Arginine-PNAs in Leukaemic K562 Cells 
Chembiochem  2012;13(9):1327-1337.
A series of 18-mer peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) targeted against micro-RNA miR-210 was synthesised and tested in a cellular system. Unmodified PNAs, R8-conjugated PNAs and modified PNAs containing eight arginine residues on the backbone, either as C2-modified (R) or C5-modified (S) monomers, all with the same sequence, were compared. Two different models were used for the modified PNAs: one with alternated chiral and achiral monomers and one with a stretch of chiral monomers at the N terminus. The melting temperatures of these derivatives were found to be extremely high and 5 m urea was used to assess differences between the different structures. FACS analysis and qRT-PCR on K562 chronic myelogenous leukaemic cells indicated that arginine-conjugated and backbone-modified PNAs display good cellular uptake, with best performances for the C2-modified series. Resistance to enzymatic degradation was found to be higher for the backbone-modified PNAs, thus enhancing the advantage of using these derivatives rather than conjugated PNAs in the cells in serum, and this effect is magnified in the presence of peptidases such as trypsin. Inhibition of miR-210 activity led to changes in the erythroid differentiation pathway, which were more evident in mithramycin-treated cells. Interestingly, the anti-miR activities differed with use of different PNAs, thus suggesting a role of the substituents not only in the cellular uptake, but also in the mechanism of miR recognition and inactivation. This is the first report relating to the use of backbone-modified PNAs as anti-miR agents. The results clearly indicate that backbone-modified PNAs are good candidates for the development of very efficient drugs based on anti-miR activity, due to their enhanced bioavailabilities, and that overall anti-miR performance is a combination of cellular uptake and RNA binding.
doi:10.1002/cbic.201100745
PMCID: PMC3401907  PMID: 22639449
cell permeation; cellular differentiation; chiral PNA; microRNA; peptide nucleic acids; RNA
11.  Exploitation of a Very Small Peptide Nucleic Acid as a New Inhibitor of miR-509-3p Involved in the Regulation of Cystic Fibrosis Disease-Gene Expression 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:610718.
Computational techniques, and in particular molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, have been successfully used as a complementary technique to predict and analyse the structural behaviour of nucleic acids, including peptide nucleic acid- (PNA-) RNA hybrids. This study shows that a 7-base long PNA complementary to the seed region of miR-509-3p, one of the miRNAs involved in the posttranscriptional regulation of the CFTR disease-gene of Cystic Fibrosis, and bearing suitable functionalization at its N- and C-ends aimed at improving its resistance to nucleases and cellular uptake, is able to revert the expression of the luciferase gene containing the 3′UTR of the gene in A549 human lung cancer cells, in agreement with the MD results that pointed at the formation of a stable RNA/PNA heteroduplex notwithstanding the short sequence of the latter. The here reported results widen the interest towards the use of small PNAs as effective anti-miRNA agents.
doi:10.1155/2014/610718
PMCID: PMC4009323  PMID: 24829907
12.  Classification of real and pseudo microRNA precursors using local structure-sequence features and support vector machine 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:310.
Background
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a group of short (~22 nt) non-coding RNAs that play important regulatory roles. MiRNA precursors (pre-miRNAs) are characterized by their hairpin structures. However, a large amount of similar hairpins can be folded in many genomes. Almost all current methods for computational prediction of miRNAs use comparative genomic approaches to identify putative pre-miRNAs from candidate hairpins. Ab initio method for distinguishing pre-miRNAs from sequence segments with pre-miRNA-like hairpin structures is lacking. Being able to classify real vs. pseudo pre-miRNAs is important both for understanding of the nature of miRNAs and for developing ab initio prediction methods that can discovery new miRNAs without known homology.
Results
A set of novel features of local contiguous structure-sequence information is proposed for distinguishing the hairpins of real pre-miRNAs and pseudo pre-miRNAs. Support vector machine (SVM) is applied on these features to classify real vs. pseudo pre-miRNAs, achieving about 90% accuracy on human data. Remarkably, the SVM classifier built on human data can correctly identify up to 90% of the pre-miRNAs from other species, including plants and virus, without utilizing any comparative genomics information.
Conclusion
The local structure-sequence features reflect discriminative and conserved characteristics of miRNAs, and the successful ab initio classification of real and pseudo pre-miRNAs opens a new approach for discovering new miRNAs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-310
PMCID: PMC1360673  PMID: 16381612
13.  Side chain modified peptide nucleic acids (PNA) for knock-down of six3 in medaka embryos 
BMC Biotechnology  2012;12:50.
Background
Synthetic antisense molecules have an enormous potential for therapeutic applications in humans. The major aim of such strategies is to specifically interfere with gene function, thus modulating cellular pathways according to the therapeutic demands. Among the molecules which can block mRNA function in a sequence specific manner are peptide nucleic acids (PNA). They are highly stable and efficiently and selectively interact with RNA. However, some properties of non-modified aminoethyl glycine PNAs (aegPNA) hamper their in vivo applications.
Results
We generated new backbone modifications of PNAs, which exhibit more hydrophilic properties. When we examined the activity and specificity of these novel phosphonic ester PNAs (pePNA) molecules in medaka (Oryzias latipes) embryos, high solubility and selective binding to mRNA was observed. In particular, mixing of the novel components with aegPNA components resulted in mixed PNAs with superior properties. Injection of mixed PNAs directed against the medaka six3 gene, which is important for eye and brain development, resulted in specific six3 phenotypes.
Conclusions
PNAs are well established as powerful antisense molecules. Modification of the backbone with phosphonic ester side chains further improves their properties and allows the efficient knock down of a single gene in fish embryos.
doi:10.1186/1472-6750-12-50
PMCID: PMC3469332  PMID: 22901024
PNA; Knock down; Medaka; Six3
14.  Antisense properties of duplex- and triplex-forming PNAs. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1996;24(3):494-500.
The potential of peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) as specific inhibitors of translation has been studied. PNAs with a mixed purine/pyrimidine sequence form duplexes, while homopyrimidine PNAs form (PNA)2/RNA triplexes with complementary sequences on RNA. We show here that neither of these PNA/RNA structures are substrates for RNase H. Translation experiments in cell-free extracts showed that a 15mer duplex-forming PNA blocked translation in a dose-dependent manner when the target was 5'-proximal to the AUG start codon on the RNA, whereas similar 10-, 15- or 20mer PNAs had no effect when targeted towards sequences in the coding region. Triplex-forming 10mer PNAs were efficient and specific antisense agents with a target overlapping the AUG start codon and caused arrest of ribosome elongation with a target positioned in the coding region of the mRNA. Furthermore, translation could be blocked with a 6mer bisPNA or with a clamp PNA, forming partly a triplex, partly a duplex, with its target sequence in the coding region of the mRNA.
PMCID: PMC145651  PMID: 8602363
15.  Clarifying mammalian RISC assembly in vitro 
BMC Molecular Biology  2011;12:19.
Background
Argonaute, the core component of the RNA induced silencing complex (RISC), binds to mature miRNAs and regulates gene expression at transcriptional or post-transcriptional level. We recently reported that Argonaute 2 (Ago2) also assembles into complexes with miRNA precursors (pre-miRNAs). These Ago2:pre-miRNA complexes are catalytically active in vitro and constitute non-canonical RISCs.
Results
The use of pre-miRNAs as guides by Ago2 bypasses Dicer activity and complicates in vitro RISC reconstitution. In this work, we characterized Ago2:pre-miRNA complexes and identified RNAs that are targeted by miRNAs but not their corresponding pre-miRNAs. Using these target RNAs we were able to recapitulate in vitro pre-miRNA processing and canonical RISC loading, and define the minimal factors required for these processes.
Conclusions
Our results indicate that Ago2 and Dicer are sufficient for processing and loading of miRNAs into RISC. Furthermore, our studies suggest that Ago2 binds primarily to the 5'- and alternatively, to the 3'-end of select pre-miRNAs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2199-12-19
PMCID: PMC3112105  PMID: 21529364
16.  Kinetic analysis reveals the fate of a microRNA following target regulation in mammalian cells 
Current biology : CB  2011;21(5):369-376.
Summary
Considerable details about microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis and regulation have been uncovered, however, little is known about the fate of the miRNA subsequent to target regulation. To gain insight into this process, we carried out kinetic analysis of a miRNA’s turnover following termination of its biogenesis, and during regulation of a target that is not subject to Ago2-mediated catalytic cleavage. By quantitating the number of molecules of the miRNA and its target in steady-state, and in the course of its decay, we found that each miRNA molecule was able to regulate at least 2 target transcripts, providing in vivo evidence that the miRNA is not irreversibly sequestered with its target, and that the non-slicing pathway of miRNA regulation is multiple-turnover. Using deep-sequencing, we further show that miRNA recycling is limited by target regulation, which promotes post-transcriptional modifications to the 3′ end of the miRNA, and accelerates the miRNA’s rate of decay. These studies provide new insight into the efficiency of miRNA regulation, which help to explain how a miRNA can regulate a vast number of transcripts, and identify one of the mechanisms that impart specificity to miRNA decay in mammalian cells.
doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.01.067
PMCID: PMC3088433  PMID: 21353554
17.  Small Molecule Modifiers of the microRNA and RNA Interference Pathway 
The AAPS Journal  2009;12(1):51-60.
Recently, the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway has become the target of small molecule inhibitors and activators. RNAi has been well established as a research tool in the sequence-specific silencing of genes in eukaryotic cells and organisms by using exogenous, small, double-stranded RNA molecules of approximately 20 nucleotides. Moreover, a recently discovered post-transcriptional gene regulatory mechanism employs microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of endogenously expressed small RNA molecules, which are processed via the RNAi pathway. The chemical modulation of RNAi has important therapeutic relevance, because a wide range of miRNAs has been linked to a variety of human diseases, especially cancer. Thus, the activation of tumor-suppressive miRNAs and the inhibition of oncogenic miRNAs by small molecules have the potential to provide a fundamentally new approach for the development of cancer therapeutics.
doi:10.1208/s12248-009-9159-3
PMCID: PMC2811638  PMID: 19937410
cancer; microRNA; RNA; RNA interference; small molecule
18.  Inhibiting Gene Expression with Peptide Nucleic Acid (PNA)–Peptide Conjugates that Target Chromosomal DNA 
Biochemistry  2007;46(25):7581-7589.
Peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) are a nonionic DNA/RNA mimic that can recognize complementary sequences by Watson–Crick base–pairing. The neutral PNA backbone facilitates recognition of duplex DNA by strand invasion, suggesting that antigene PNAs (agPNAs) can be important tools for exploring the structure and function of chromosomal DNA inside cells. However, before agPNAs can enter wide use it will be necessary to develop straightforward strategies for introducing them into cells. Here we demonstrate that agPNA–peptide conjugates can target promoter DNA and block progesterone receptor (PR) gene expression inside cells. Thirty–six agPNA–peptide conjugates were synthesized and tested. We observed inhibition of gene expression using cationic peptides containing either arginine or lysine residues, with eight or more cationic amino acids being preferred. Both thirteen and nineteen base agPNA-peptide conjugates were inhibitory. Inhibition was observed in human cancer cell lines expressing either high or low levels of progesterone receptor. Modification of agPNA–peptide conjugates with hydrophobic amino acids or small molecule hydrophobic moities yielded improved potency. Inhibition by agPNAs did not require cationic lipid or any other additive, but adding agents to cell growth media that promote endosomal release caused modest increases in agPNA potency. These data demonstrate that chromosomal DNA is accessible to agPNA–peptide conjugates and that chemical modifications can improve potency.
doi:10.1021/bi700230a
PMCID: PMC2564818  PMID: 17536840
19.  Local delivery of gene-modifying triplex-forming molecules to epidermis 
Epidermal keratinocytes are particularly suitable candidates for in situ gene correction. Intraperitoneal administration of a triplex-forming oligonucleotide (TFO) was shown previously to introduce DNA base changes in a reporter gene in skin, without identifying which cells had been targeted. We extend those previous experiments using two triplex-forming molecules (TFMs), a peptide nucleic acid (PNA-Antp) and a TFO (AG30), and two lines of transgenic mice that have the chromosomally integrated λsupFG1 shuttle-reporter transgene. Successful in vivo genomic modification occurs in epidermis and dermis in CD1 transgenic mice following either intraperitoneal or intradermal delivery of the PNA-Antennapedia conjugate. FITC-PNA-Antp accumulates in nuclei of keratinocytes and, after intradermal delivery of the PNA-Antp, chromosomally modified, keratin 5 positive basal keratinocytes persist for at least 10 days. In hairless (SKH1) mice with the λsupFG1 transgene, intradermal delivery of the TFO, AG30, introduces gene modifications in both tail and back skin and those chromosomal modifications persist in basal keratinocytes for 10 days. Hairless mice should facilitate comparison of various targeting agents and methods of delivery. Gene targeting by repeated local administration of oligonucleotides may prove clinically useful for judiciously selected disease-causing genes in the epidermis.
doi:10.1038/jid.2012.351
PMCID: PMC3532560  PMID: 23014335
20.  Tissue-dependent paired expression of miRNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(17):5944-5953.
It is believed that depending on the thermodynamic stability of the 5′-strand and the 3′-strand in the stem-loop structure of a precursor microRNA (pre-miRNA), cells preferentially select the less stable one (called the miRNA or guide strand) and destroy the other one (called the miRNA* or passenger strand). However, our expression profiling analyses revealed that both strands could be co-accumulated as miRNA pairs in some tissues while being subjected to strand selection in other tissues. Our target prediction and validation assays demonstrated that both strands of a miRNA pair could target equal numbers of genes and that both were able to suppress the expression of their target genes. Our finding not only suggests that the numbers of miRNAs and their targets are much greater than what we previously thought, but also implies that novel mechanisms are involved in the tissue-dependent miRNA biogenesis and target selection process.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkm641
PMCID: PMC2034466  PMID: 17726050
21.  Additive antisense effects of different PNAs on the in vitro translation of the PML/RARalpha gene. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1998;26(8):1934-1938.
The potential use of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) as a sequence-specific inhibitor of RNA translation is investigated in this report. Three different regions of the PML/RARalpha oncogene, including two AUG potential start codons, were studied as targets of translation inhibition by antisense PNA in a cell-free system. A PNA targeted to the second AUG start codon, which was shown previously to be able to suppress in vitro translation from that site completely, was used alone or in combination with another PNA directed to the first AUG, and a third PNA within the 5'-untranslated region (5'-UTR) of mRNA. When used alone, no PNA was able to completely block the synthesis of the PML/RARalpha protein. The 5'-UTR PNA was the most potent translation inhibitor when used as single agent. However, a near complete (>/=90%) specific inhibition of the PML/RARalpha gene was obtained when the three PNAs were used in combination, thus obtaining an additive antisense effect.
PMCID: PMC147505  PMID: 9518485
22.  Improved cell-penetrating peptide–PNA conjugates for splicing redirection in HeLa cells and exon skipping in mdx mouse muscle 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(20):6418-6428.
Steric blocking peptide nucleic acid (PNA) oligonucleotides have been used increasingly for redirecting RNA splicing particularly in therapeutic applications such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Covalent attachment of a cell-penetrating peptide helps to improve cell delivery of PNA. We have used a HeLa pLuc705 cell splicing redirection assay to develop a series of PNA internalization peptides (Pip) conjugated to an 18-mer PNA705 model oligonucleotide with higher activity compared to a PNA705 conjugate with a leading cell-penetrating peptide being developed for therapeutic use, (R-Ahx-R)4. We show that Pip–PNA705 conjugates are internalized in HeLa cells by an energy-dependent mechanism and that the predominant pathway of cell uptake of biologically active conjugate seems to be via clathrin-dependent endocytosis. In a mouse model of DMD, serum-stabilized Pip2a or Pip2b peptides conjugated to a 20-mer PNA (PNADMD) targeting the exon 23 mutation in the dystrophin gene showed strong exon-skipping activity in differentiated mdx mouse myotubes in culture in the absence of an added transfection agent at concentrations where naked PNADMD was inactive. Injection of Pip2a-PNADMD or Pip2b-PNADMD into the tibealis anterior muscles of mdx mice resulted in ∼3-fold higher numbers of dystrophin-positive fibres compared to naked PNADMD or (R-Ahx-R)4-PNADMD.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkn671
PMCID: PMC2582604  PMID: 18842625
23.  Precursor microRNA Programmed Silencing Complex Assembly Pathways in Mammals 
Molecular Cell  2012;46(4):507-517.
Summary
Assembly of microRNA Ribonucleoproteins (miRNPs) or RNA-Induced Silencing Complexes (RISCs) is essential for the function of miRNAs and initiates from processing of precursor miRNAs (pre-miRNAs) by Dicer or by Ago2. Here, we report an in-vitro miRNP/RISC assembly assay programmed by pre-miRNAs from mammalian cell lysates. Combining in-vivo studies in Dicer Knock-Out cells reconstituted with wild type or catalytically inactive Dicer, we find that the miRNA Loading Complex (miRLC) is the primary machinery linking pre-miRNA processing to miRNA loading. We show that a miRNA Precursor Deposit Complex (miPDC) plays a crucial role in Dicer-independent miRNA biogenesis and promotes miRNP assembly of certain Dicer-dependent miRNAs. Furthermore, we find that 5′-uridine, 3′-mid base pairing and 5′-mid mismatches within pre-miRNAs promote their assembly into miPDC. Our studies provide a comprehensive view of miRNP/RISC assembly pathways in mammals and our assay provides a versatile platform for further mechanistic dissection of such pathways in mammals.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2012.03.010
PMCID: PMC3399505  PMID: 22503104
24.  The NF90-NF45 Complex Functions as a Negative Regulator in the MicroRNA Processing Pathway▿ † 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;29(13):3754-3769.
The positive regulatory machinery in the microRNA (miRNA) processing pathway is relatively well characterized, but negative regulation of the pathway is largely unknown. Here we show that a complex of nuclear factor 90 (NF90) and NF45 proteins functions as a negative regulator in miRNA biogenesis. Primary miRNA (pri-miRNA) processing into precursor miRNA (pre-miRNA) was inhibited by overexpression of the NF90 and NF45 proteins, and considerable amounts of pri-miRNAs accumulated in cells coexpressing NF90 and NF45. Treatment of cells overexpressing NF90 and NF45 with an RNA polymerase II inhibitor, α-amanitin, did not reduce the amounts of pri-miRNAs, suggesting that the accumulation of pri-miRNAs is not due to transcriptional activation. In addition, the NF90 and NF45 complex was not found to interact with the Microprocessor complex, which is a processing factor of pri-miRNAs, but was found to bind endogenous pri-miRNAs. NF90-NF45 exhibited higher binding activity for pri-let-7a than pri-miR-21. Of note, depletion of NF90 caused a reduction of pri-let-7a and an increase of mature let-7a miRNA, which has a potent antiproliferative activity, and caused growth suppression of transformed cells. These findings suggest that the association of the NF90-NF45 complex with pri-miRNAs impairs access of the Microprocessor complex to the pri-miRNAs, resulting in a reduction of mature miRNA production.
doi:10.1128/MCB.01836-08
PMCID: PMC2698745  PMID: 19398578
25.  A Functional Screen Identifies Specific MicroRNAs Capable of Inhibiting Human Melanoma Cell Viability 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43569.
Malignant melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer with poor prognosis. Despite improvements in awareness and prevention of this disease, its incidence is rapidly increasing. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small RNA molecules that regulate cellular processes by repressing messenger RNAs (mRNAs) with partially complementary target sites. Several miRNAs have already been shown to attenuate cancer phenotypes, by limiting proliferation, invasiveness, tumor angiogenesis, and stemness. Here, we employed a genome-scale lentiviral human miRNA expression library to systematically survey which miRNAs are able to decrease A375 melanoma cell viability. We highlight the strongest inhibitors of melanoma cell proliferation, including the miR-15/16, miR-141/200a and miR-96/182 families of miRNAs and miR-203. Ectopic expression of these miRNAs resulted in long-term inhibition of melanoma cell expansion, both in vitro and in vivo. We show specifically miR-16, miR-497, miR-96 and miR-182 are efficient effectors when introduced as synthetic miRNAs in several melanoma cell lines. Our study provides a comprehensive interrogation of miRNAs that interfere with melanoma cell proliferation and viability, and offers a selection of miRNAs that are especially promising candidates for application in melanoma therapy.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043569
PMCID: PMC3425484  PMID: 22927992

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