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1.  Visualizing lipid-formulated siRNA release from endosomes and target gene knockdown 
Nature biotechnology  2015;33(8):870-876.
A central hurdle in developing small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) as therapeutics is the inefficiency of their delivery across the plasma and endosomal membranes to the cytosol, where they interact with the RNA interference machinery. With the aim of improving endosomal release, a poorly understood and inefficient process, we studied the uptake and cytosolic release of siRNAs, formulated in lipoplexes or lipid nanoparticles, by live-cell imaging and correlated it with knockdown of a target GFP reporter. siRNA release occurred invariably from maturing endosomes within ~5–15 min of endocytosis. Cytosolic galectins immediately recognized the damaged endosome and targeted it for autophagy. However, inhibiting autophagy did not enhance cytosolic siRNA release. Gene knockdown occurred within a few hours of release and required <2,000 copies of cytosolic siRNAs. The ability to detect cytosolic release of siRNAs and understand how it is regulated will facilitate the development of rational strategies for improving the cytosolic delivery of candidate drugs.
PMCID: PMC4663660  PMID: 26192320
2.  Identification of siRNA delivery enhancers by a chemical library screen 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(16):7984-8001.
Most delivery systems for small interfering RNA therapeutics depend on endocytosis and release from endo-lysosomal compartments. One approach to improve delivery is to identify small molecules enhancing these steps. It is unclear to what extent such enhancers can be universally applied to different delivery systems and cell types. Here, we performed a compound library screen on two well-established siRNA delivery systems, lipid nanoparticles and cholesterol conjugated-siRNAs. We identified fifty-one enhancers improving gene silencing 2–5 fold. Strikingly, most enhancers displayed specificity for one delivery system only. By a combination of quantitative fluorescence and electron microscopy we found that the enhancers substantially differed in their mechanism of action, increasing either endocytic uptake or release of siRNAs from endosomes. Furthermore, they acted either on the delivery system itself or the cell, by modulating the endocytic system via distinct mechanisms. Interestingly, several compounds displayed activity on different cell types. As proof of principle, we showed that one compound enhanced siRNA delivery in primary endothelial cells in vitro and in the endocardium in the mouse heart. This study suggests that a pharmacological approach can improve the delivery of siRNAs in a system-specific fashion, by exploiting distinct mechanisms and acting upon multiple cell types.
PMCID: PMC4652771  PMID: 26220182
3.  Allele-Selective Inhibition of Mutant Atrophin-1 Expression by Duplex and Single-Stranded RNAs 
Biochemistry  2014;53(28):4510-4518.
Dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy (DRPLA) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that currently has no curative treatments. DRPLA is caused by an expansion of a CAG trinucleotide repeat region within the protein-encoding sequence of the atrophin-1 (ATN-1) gene. Inhibition of mutant ATN-1 protein expression is one strategy for treating DRPLA, and allele-selective gene silencing agents that block mutant expression over wild-type expression would be lead compounds for therapeutic development. Here we develop an assay for distinguishing mutant from wild-type ATN-1 protein by gel electrophoresis. We use this assay to evaluate duplex RNAs and single-stranded silencing RNAs (ss-siRNAs) for allele-selective inhibition of ATN-1 protein expression. We observed potent and allele-selective inhibition by RNA duplexes that contain mismatched bases relative to the CAG target and have the potential to form miRNA-like complexes. ss-siRNAs that contained mismatches were as selective as mismatch-containing duplexes. We also report allele-selective inhibition by duplex RNAs containing unlocked nucleic acids or abasic substitutions, although selectivities are not as high. Five compounds that showed >8-fold allele selectivity for mutant ATN-1 were also selective for inhibiting the expression of two other trinucleotide repeat disease genes, ataxin-3 (ATXN-3) and huntingtin (HTT). These data demonstrate that the expanded trinucleotide repeat within ATN-1 mRNA is a potential target for compounds designed to achieve allele-selective inhibition of ATN-1 protein, and one agent may allow the targeting of multiple disease genes.
PMCID: PMC4108179  PMID: 24981774
4.  Molecularly Self-Assembled Nucleic Acid Nanoparticles for Targeted In Vivo siRNA Delivery 
Nature nanotechnology  2012;7(6):389-393.
Nanoparticles are employed for delivering therapeutics into cells1,2. However, size, shape, surface chemistry and the presentation of targeting ligands on the surface of nanoparticles can affect circulation half-life and biodistribution, cell specific internalization, excretion, toxicity, and efficacy3-7. A variety of materials have been explored for delivering small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) - a therapeutic agent that suppresses the expression of targeted genes8,9. However, conventional delivery nanoparticles such as liposomes and polymeric systems are heterogeneous in size, composition and surface chemistry, and this can lead to suboptimal performance, lack of tissue specificity and potential toxicity10-12. Here, we show that self-assembled DNA tetrahedral nanoparticles with a well-defined size can deliver siRNAs into cells and silence target genes in tumours. Monodisperse nanoparticles are prepared through the self-assembly of complementary DNA strands. Because the DNA strands are easily programmable, the size of the nanoparticles and the spatial orientation and density of cancer targeting ligands (such as peptides and folate) on the nanoparticle surface can be precisely controlled. We show that at least three folate molecules per nanoparticle is required for optimal delivery of the siRNAs into cells and, gene silencing occurs only when the ligands are in the appropriate spatial orientation. In vivo, these nanoparticles showed a longer blood circulation time (t1/2 ∼ 24.2 min) than the parent siRNA (t1/2 ∼ 6 min).
PMCID: PMC3898745  PMID: 22659608
5.  Lipid Nanoparticle Delivery of siRNA to Silence Neuronal Gene Expression in the Brain 
Manipulation of gene expression in the brain is fundamental for understanding the function of proteins involved in neuronal processes. In this article, we show a method for using small interfering RNA (siRNA) in lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) to efficiently silence neuronal gene expression in cell culture and in the brain in vivo through intracranial injection. We show that neurons accumulate these LNPs in an apolipoprotein E–dependent fashion, resulting in very efficient uptake in cell culture (100%) with little apparent toxicity. In vivo, intracortical or intracerebroventricular (ICV) siRNA-LNP injections resulted in knockdown of target genes either in discrete regions around the injection site or in more widespread areas following ICV injections with no apparent toxicity or immune reactions from the LNPs. Effective targeted knockdown was demonstrated by showing that intracortical delivery of siRNA against GRIN1 (encoding GluN1 subunit of the NMDA receptor (NMDAR)) selectively reduced synaptic NMDAR currents in vivo as compared with synaptic AMPA receptor currents. Therefore, LNP delivery of siRNA rapidly manipulates expression of proteins involved in neuronal processes in vivo, possibly enabling the development of gene therapies for neurological disorders.
PMCID: PMC3889191  PMID: 24301867
6.  Influence of Polyethylene Glycol Lipid Desorption Rates on Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of siRNA Lipid Nanoparticles 
Lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) encapsulating short interfering RNAs that target hepatic genes are advancing through clinical trials, and early results indicate the excellent gene silencing observed in rodents and nonhuman primates also translates to humans. This success has motivated research to identify ways to further advance this delivery platform. Here, we characterize the polyethylene glycol lipid (PEG-lipid) components, which are required to control the self-assembly process during formation of lipid particles, but can negatively affect delivery to hepatocytes and hepatic gene silencing in vivo. The rate of transfer from LNPs to plasma lipoproteins in vivo is measured for three PEG-lipids with dialkyl chains 14, 16, and 18 carbons long. We show that 1.5 mol % PEG-lipid represents a threshold concentration at which the chain length exerts a minimal effect on hepatic gene silencing but can still modify LNPs pharmacokinetics and biodistribution. Increasing the concentration to 2.5 and 3.5 mol % substantially compromises hepatocyte gene knockdown for PEG-lipids with distearyl (C18) chains but has little impact for shorter dimyristyl (C14) chains. These data are discussed with respect to RNA delivery and the different rates at which the steric barrier disassociates from LNPs in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3894582  PMID: 24345865
drug delivery; hepatocyte; lipid nanoparticles; polyethylene glycol; siRNA; prenatal diagnosis
7.  2′-Fluoro RNA Shows Increased Watson-Crick H-Bonding Strength and Stacking relative to RNA: Evidence from NMR and Thermodynamic Data** 
PMCID: PMC3757553  PMID: 23055396
2'-F RNA; RNA; NMR; hydrogen bonding; stacking; thermodynamics
8.  Promoter RNA links transcriptional regulation of inflammatory pathway genes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(22):10086-10109.
Although many long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) have been discovered, their function and their association with RNAi factors in the nucleus have remained obscure. Here, we identify RNA transcripts that overlap the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) promoter and contain two adjacent binding sites for an endogenous miRNA, miR-589. We find that miR-589 binds the promoter RNA and activates COX-2 transcription. In addition to miR-589, fully complementary duplex RNAs that target the COX-2 promoter transcript activate COX-2 transcription. Activation by small RNA requires RNAi factors argonaute-2 (AGO2) and GW182, but does not require AGO2-mediated cleavage of the promoter RNA. Instead, the promoter RNA functions as a scaffold. Binding of AGO2 protein/small RNA complexes to the promoter RNA triggers gene activation. Gene looping allows interactions between the promoters of COX-2 and phospholipase A2 (PLA2G4A), an adjacent pro-inflammatory pathway gene that produces arachidonic acid, the substrate for COX-2 protein. miR-589 and fully complementary small RNAs regulate both COX-2 and PLA2G4A gene expression, revealing an unexpected connection between key steps of the eicosanoid signaling pathway. The work demonstrates the potential for RNA to coordinate locus-dependent assembly of related genes to form functional operons through cis-looping.
PMCID: PMC3905862  PMID: 23999091
9.  RNA duplexes with abasic substitutions are potent and allele-selective inhibitors of huntingtin and ataxin-3 expression 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(18):8788-8801.
Abasic substitutions within DNA or RNA are tools for evaluating the impact of absent nucleobases. Because of the importance of abasic sites in genetic damage, most research has involved DNA. Little information is available on the impact of abasic substitutions within RNA or on RNA interference (RNAi). Here, we examine the effect of abasic substitutions on RNAi and allele-selective gene silencing. Huntington's disease (HD) and Machado Joseph Disease (MJD) are severe neurological disorders that currently have no cure. HD and MJD are caused by an expansion of CAG repeats within one mRNA allele encoding huntingtin (HTT) and ataxin-3 (ATX-3) proteins. Agents that silence mutant HTT or ATX-3 expression would remove the cause of HD or MJD and provide an option for therapeutic development. We describe flexible syntheses for abasic substitutions and show that abasic RNA duplexes allele-selectively inhibit both mutant HTT and mutant ATX-3. Inhibition involves the RNAi protein argonaute 2, even though the abasic substitution disrupts the catalytic cleavage of RNA target by argonaute 2. Several different abasic duplexes achieve potent and selective inhibition, providing a broad platform for subsequent development. These findings introduce abasic substitutions as a tool for tailoring RNA duplexes for gene silencing.
PMCID: PMC3794577  PMID: 23887934
10.  Multivalent Cyclic RGD Conjugates for Targeted Delivery of siRNA 
Bioconjugate chemistry  2011;22(8):1673-1681.
We have designed, synthesized and tested conjugates of chemically modified luciferase siRNA (Luc-siRNA) with bi-, tri- and tetravalent cyclic(arginine-glycine-aspartic) peptides (cRGD) that selectively bind to the αvβ3 integrin. The cellular uptake, subcellular distribution and pharmacological effects of the cRGD conjugated Luc-siRNAs as compared to un-conjugated controls were examined using a luciferase reporter cassette stably transfected into αvβ3 positive M21+ human melanoma cells. The M21+ cells exhibited receptor-mediated uptake of cRGD-siRNA conjugates but not of unconjugated control siRNA. The fluorophore-tagged cRGD-siRNA conjugates were taken up by a caveolar endocytotic route and primarily accumulated in cytosolic vesicles. The bi-, tri- and tetravalent cRGD conjugates were taken up by M21+ cells to approximately the same degree. However, there were notable differences in their pharmacological effectiveness. The tri- and tetravalent versions produced progressive, dose-dependent reductions in luciferase expression, while the bivalent version had little effect. The basis for this divergence of uptake and effect is currently unclear. Nonetheless the high selectivity and substantial ‘knock down’ effects of the multivalent cRGD-siRNA conjugates suggest that this targeting and delivery strategy deserves further exploration.
PMCID: PMC3718025  PMID: 21755983
11.  A Small-RNA Enhancer of Viral Polymerase Activity 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(24):13475-13485.
Influenza A virus (IAV) is an unremitting virus that results in significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. Key to the viral life cycle is the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), a heterotrimeric complex responsible for both transcription and replication of the segmented genome. Here, we demonstrate that the viral polymerase utilizes a small RNA enhancer to regulate enzymatic activity and maintain stoichiometric balance of the viral genome. We demonstrate that IAV synthesizes small viral RNAs (svRNAs) that interact with the viral RdRp in order to promote genome replication in a segment-specific manner. svRNAs localize to the nucleus, the site of IAV replication, are synthesized from the positive-sense genomic intermediate, and interact within a novel RNA binding channel of the polymerase PA subunit. Synthetic svRNAs promote polymerase activity in vitro, while loss of svRNA inhibits viral RNA synthesis in a segment-specific manner. Taking these observations together, we mechanistically define svRNA as a small regulatory enhancer RNA, which functions to promote genome replication and maintain segment balance through allosteric modulation of polymerase activity.
PMCID: PMC3503082  PMID: 23035211
13.  Harnessing a Physiologic Mechanism for siRNA Delivery With Mimetic Lipoprotein Particles 
Molecular Therapy  2012;20(8):1582-1589.
Therapeutics based on RNA interference (RNAi) have emerged as a potential new class of drugs for treating human disease by silencing the target messenger RNA (mRNA), thereby reducing levels of the corresponding pathogenic protein. The major challenge for RNAi therapeutics is the development of safe delivery vehicles for small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). We previously showed that cholesterol-conjugated siRNAs (chol-siRNA) associate with plasma lipoprotein particles and distribute primarily to the liver after systemic administration to mice. We further demonstrated enhancement of silencing by administration of chol-siRNA pre-associated with isolated high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or low-density lipoprotein (LDL). In this study, we investigated mimetic lipoprotein particle prepared from recombinant apolipoprotein A1 (apoA) and apolipoprotein E3 (apoE) as a delivery vehicle for chol-siRNAs. We show that apoE-containing particle (E-lip) is highly effective in functional delivery of chol-siRNA to mouse liver. E-lip delivery was found to be considerably more potent than apoA-containing particle (A-lip). Furthermore, E-lip–mediated delivery was not significantly affected by high endogenous levels of plasma LDL. These results demonstrate that E-lip has substantial potential as delivery vehicles for lipophilic conjugates of siRNAs.
PMCID: PMC3412494  PMID: 22850721
14.  Formulation of Small Activating RNA Into Lipidoid Nanoparticles Inhibits Xenograft Prostate Tumor Growth by Inducing p21 Expression 
Application of RNA interference (RNAi) in the clinic has improved with the development of novel delivery reagents (e.g., lipidoids). Although RNAi promises a therapeutic approach at silencing gene expression, practical methods for enhancing gene production still remain a challenge. Previously, we reported that double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) can activate gene expression by targeting promoter sequence in a phenomenon termed RNA activation (RNAa). In the present study, we investigate the therapeutic potential of RNAa in prostate cancer xenografts by using lipidoid-based formulation to facilitate in vivo delivery. We identify a strong activator of gene expression by screening several dsRNAs targeting the promoter of tumor suppressor p21WAF1/ Cip1 (p21). Chemical modification is subsequently implemented to improve the medicinal properties of the candidate duplex. Lipidoid-encapsulated nanoparticle (LNP) formulation is validated as a delivery vehicle to mediate p21 induction and inhibit growth of prostate tumor xenografts grown in nude mice following intratumoral injection. We provide insight into the stepwise creation and analysis of a putative RNAa-based therapeutic with antitumor activity. Our results provide proof-of-principle that RNAa in conjunction with lipidioids may represent a novel approach for stimulating gene expression in vivo to treat disease.
PMCID: PMC3381590  PMID: 23343884
CDKN1A; delivery; gene activation; gene therapy; lipid nanoparticles; prostate cancer; saRNA; siRNA
15.  Systemic RNAi-mediated Gene Silencing in Nonhuman Primate and Rodent Myeloid Cells 
Leukocytes are central regulators of inflammation and the target cells of therapies for key diseases, including autoimmune, cardiovascular, and malignant disorders. Efficient in vivo delivery of small interfering RNA (siRNA) to immune cells could thus enable novel treatment strategies with broad applicability. In this report, we develop systemic delivery methods of siRNA encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles (LNP) for durable and potent in vivo RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated silencing in myeloid cells. This work provides the first demonstration of siRNA-mediated silencing in myeloid cell types of nonhuman primates (NHPs) and establishes the feasibility of targeting multiple gene targets in rodent myeloid cells. The therapeutic potential of these formulations was demonstrated using siRNA targeting tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) which induced substantial attenuation of disease progression comparable to a potent antibody treatment in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In summary, we demonstrate a broadly applicable and therapeutically relevant platform for silencing disease genes in immune cells.
PMCID: PMC3381593  PMID: 23344621
delivery; immune cell; siRNA
16.  Activation of LDL Receptor (LDLR) Expression by Small RNAs Complementary to a Noncoding Transcript that Overlaps the LDLR Promoter 
Chemistry & biology  2010;17(12):1344-1355.
Low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) is a cell-surface receptor that plays a central role in regulating cholesterol levels. Increased levels of LDLR would lead to reduced cholesterol levels and contribute to strategies designed to treat hypercholesterolemia. We have previously shown that duplex RNAs complementary to transcription start sites can associate with noncoding transcripts and activate gene expression. Here we show that duplex RNAs complementary to the promoter of LDLR activate expression of LDLR and increase the display of LDLR on the surface of liver cells. Activation requires complementarity to the LDLR promoter and can be achieved by chemically modified duplex RNAs. Promoter-targeted duplex RNAs can overcome repression of LDLR expression by 25-hydroxycholesterol and do not interfere with activation of LDLR expression by lovastatin. These data demonstrate that small RNAs can activate LDLR expression and affect LDLR function.
PMCID: PMC3071588  PMID: 21168770
17.  Mechanisms of single-stranded phosphorothioate modified antisense oligonucleotide accumulation in hepatocytes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(11):4795-4807.
Single-stranded antisense oligonucleotides (SSOs) are used to modulate the expression of genes in animal models and are being investigated as potential therapeutics. To better understand why synthetic SSOs accumulate in the same intracellular location as the target RNA, we have isolated a novel mouse hepatocellular SV40 large T-antigen carcinoma cell line, MHT that maintains the ability to efficiently take up SSOs over several years in culture. Sequence-specific antisense effects are demonstrated at low nanomolar concentrations. SSO accumulation into cells is both time and concentration dependent. At least two distinct cellular pathways are responsible for SSO accumulation in cells: a non-productive pathway resulting in accumulation in lysosomes, and a functional uptake pathway in which the SSO gains access to the targeted RNA. We demonstrate that functional uptake, as defined by a sequence-specific reduction in target mRNA, is inhibited by brefeldin A and chloroquine. Functional uptake is blocked by siRNA inhibitors of the adaptor protein AP2M1, but not by clathrin or caveolin. Furthermore, we document that treatment of mice with an AP2M1 siRNA blocks functional uptake into liver tissue. Functional uptake of SSO appears to be mediated by a novel clathrin- and caveolin-independent endocytotic process.
PMCID: PMC3113586  PMID: 21345934
18.  Effective RNAi-mediated gene silencing without interruption of the endogenous microRNA pathway 
Nature  2007;449(7163):745-747.
Systemic administration of synthetic small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) effectively silences hepatocyte gene expression in rodents and primates1–3. Whether or not in vivo gene silencing by synthetic siRNA can disrupt the endogenous microRNA (miRNA) pathway remains to be addressed. Here we show that effective target-gene silencing in the mouse and hamster liver can be achieved by systemic administration of synthetic siRNA without any demonstrable effect on miRNA levels or activity. Indeed, siRNA targeting two hepatocyte-specific genes (apolipo-protein B and factor VII) that achieved efficient (~80%) silencing of messenger RNA transcripts and a third irrelevant siRNA control were administered to mice without significant changes in the levels of three hepatocyte-expressed miRNAs (miR-122, miR-16 and let-7a) or an effect on miRNA activity. Moreover, multiple administrations of an siRNA targeting the hepatocyte-expressed gene Scap in hamsters achieved long-term mRNA silencing without significant changes in miR-122 levels. This study advances the use of siRNAs as safe and effective tools to silence gene transcripts in animal studies, and supports the continued advancement of RNA interference therapeutics using synthetic siRNA.
PMCID: PMC3019095  PMID: 17898712
19.  A combinatorial library of lipid-like materials for delivery of RNAi therapeutics 
Nature biotechnology  2008;26(5):561-569.
The safe and effective delivery of RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics remains an important challenge for clinical development. The diversity of current delivery materials remains limited, in part because of their slow, multi-step syntheses. Here we describe a new class of lipid-like delivery molecules, termed lipidoids, as delivery agents for RNAi therapeutics. Chemical methods were developed to allow the rapid synthesis of a large library of over 1,200 structurally diverse lipidoids. From this library, we identified lipidoids that facilitate high levels of specific silencing of endogenous gene transcripts when formulated with either double-stranded small interfering RNA (siRNA) or single-stranded antisense 2′-O-methyl (2′-O Me) oligoribonucleotides targeting microRNA (miRNA). The safety and efficacy of lipidoids were evaluated in three animal models: mice, rats and nonhuman primates. The studies reported here suggest that these materials may have broad utility for both local and systemic delivery of RNA therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3014085  PMID: 18438401
20.  Unexpected origins of the enhanced pairing affinity of 2′-fluoro-modified RNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(8):3482-3495.
Various chemical modifications are currently being evaluated for improving the efficacy of short interfering RNA (siRNA) duplexes as antisense agents for gene silencing in vivo. Among the 2′-ribose modifications assessed to date, 2′deoxy-2′-fluoro-RNA (2′-F-RNA) has unique properties for RNA interference (RNAi) applications. Thus, 2′-F-modified nucleotides are well tolerated in the guide (antisense) and passenger (sense) siRNA strands and the corresponding duplexes lack immunostimulatory effects, enhance nuclease resistance and display improved efficacy in vitro and in vivo compared with unmodified siRNAs. To identify potential origins of the distinct behaviors of RNA and 2′-F-RNA we carried out thermodynamic and X-ray crystallographic analyses of fully and partially 2′-F-modified RNAs. Surprisingly, we found that the increased pairing affinity of 2′-F-RNA relative to RNA is not, as commonly assumed, the result of a favorable entropic contribution (‘conformational preorganization’), but instead primarily based on enthalpy. Crystal structures at high resolution and osmotic stress demonstrate that the 2′-F-RNA duplex is less hydrated than the RNA duplex. The enthalpy-driven, higher stability of the former hints at the possibility that the 2′-substituent, in addition to its important function in sculpting RNA conformation, plays an underappreciated role in modulating Watson–Crick base pairing strength and potentially π–π stacking interactions.
PMCID: PMC3082899  PMID: 21183463
21.  A Conformational Transition in the Structure of a 2′-Thiomethyl-Modified DNA Visualized at High Resolution 
Crystal structures of A-form and B-form DNA duplexes containing 2′-S-methyl-uridines reveal that the modified residues adopt a RNA-like C3′-endo pucker, illustrating that the replacement of electronegative oxygen at the 2′-carbon of RNA by sulfur does not appear to fundamentally alter the conformational preference of the sugar in the oligonucleotide context and sterics trump stereoelectronics.
PMCID: PMC2909737  PMID: 19333476
22.  Modulation of thermal stability can enhance the potency of siRNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(20):7320-7331.
During RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) assembly the guide (or antisense) strand has to separate from its complementary passenger (or sense) strand to generate the active RISC complex. Although this process was found to be facilitated through sense strand cleavage, there is evidence for an alternate mechanism, in which the strands are dissociated without prior cleavage. Here we show that the potency of siRNA can be improved by modulating the internal thermodynamic stability profile with chemical modifications. Using a model siRNA targeting the firefly luciferase gene with subnanomolar IC50, we found that placement of thermally destabilizing modifications, such as non-canonical bases like 2,4-difluorotoluene or single base pair mismatches in the central region of the sense strand (9–12 nt), significantly improve the potency. For this particular siRNA, the strongest correlation between the decrease in thermal stability and the increase in potency was found at position 10. Controls with stabilized sugar-phosphate backbone indicate that enzymatic cleavage of the sense strand prior to strand dissociation is not required for silencing activity. Similar potency-enhancing effects were observed as this approach was applied to other functional siRNAs targeting a different site on the firefly luciferase transcript or endogenously expressed PTEN.
PMCID: PMC2978349  PMID: 20610434
23.  Effect of chemical modifications on modulation of gene expression by duplex antigene RNAs that are complementary to non-coding transcripts at gene promoters 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(15):5242-5259.
Antigene RNAs (agRNAs) are small RNA duplexes that target non-coding transcripts rather than mRNA and specifically suppress or activate gene expression in a sequence-dependent manner. For many applications in vivo, it is likely that agRNAs will require chemical modification. We have synthesized agRNAs that contain different classes of chemical modification and have tested their ability to modulate expression of the human progesterone receptor gene. We find that both silencing and activating agRNAs can retain activity after modification. Both guide and passenger strands can be modified and functional agRNAs can contain 2′F-RNA, 2′OMe-RNA, and locked nucleic acid substitutions, or combinations of multiple modifications. The mechanism of agRNA activity appears to be maintained after chemical modification: both native and modified agRNAs modulate recruitment of RNA polymerase II, have the same effect on promoter-derived antisense transcripts, and must be double-stranded. These data demonstrate that agRNA activity is compatible with a wide range of chemical modifications and may facilitate in vivo applications.
PMCID: PMC2926613  PMID: 20403811
24.  RNA Interference-Mediated Silencing of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus Nucleocapsid Defines a Potent Antiviral Strategy▿  
We describe the design and characterization of a potent human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) nucleocapsid gene-specific small interfering RNA (siRNA), ALN-RSV01. In in vitro RSV plaque assays, ALN-RSV01 showed a 50% inhibitory concentration of 0.7 nM. Sequence analysis of primary isolates of RSV showed that the siRNA target site was absolutely conserved in 89/95 isolates, and ALN-RSV01 demonstrated activity against all isolates, including those with single-mismatch mutations. In vivo, intranasal dosing of ALN-RSV01 in a BALB/c mouse model resulted in potent antiviral efficacy, with 2.5- to 3.0-log-unit reductions in RSV lung concentrations being achieved when ALN-RSV01 was administered prophylactically or therapeutically in both single-dose and multidose regimens. The specificity of ALN-RSV01 was demonstrated in vivo by using mismatch controls; and the absence of an immune stimulatory mechanism was demonstrated by showing that nonspecific siRNAs that induce alpha interferon and tumor necrosis factor alpha lack antiviral efficacy, while a chemically modified form of ALN-RSV01 lacking measurable immunostimulatory capacity retained full activity in vivo. Furthermore, an RNA interference mechanism of action was demonstrated by the capture of the site-specific cleavage product of the RSV mRNA via rapid amplification of cDNA ends both in vitro and in vivo. These studies lay a solid foundation for the further investigation of ALN-RSV01 as a novel therapeutic antiviral agent for clinical use by humans.
PMCID: PMC2737834  PMID: 19506055
25.  Durable protection from Herpes Simplex Virus-2 transmission following intravaginal application of siRNAs targeting both a viral and host gene 
Cell host & microbe  2009;5(1):84-94.
A vaginal microbicide should prevent pathogen transmission without disrupting tissue barriers to infection. Ideally it would not need to be applied immediately before sexual intercourse, when compliance is a problem. Intravaginal administration of small interfering RNA (siRNA) lipoplexes targeting Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2) genes protects mice from HSV-2. However, protection is short-lived and the transfection lipid on its own unacceptably enhances transmission. Here we show that cholesterol-conjugated (chol)-siRNAs without lipid silence gene expression in the vagina without causing inflammation or inducing interferons. A viral siRNA prevents transmission within a day of challenge, whereas an siRNA targeting nectin-1, an HSV-2 receptor, protects for a week, but protection is delayed for a few days until the receptor is down-modulated. Combining siRNAs targeting a viral and host gene protects mice from HSV-2 for a week, irrespective of the time of challenge. Therefore, intravaginal siRNAs could provide sustained protection against viral transmission.
PMCID: PMC2654264  PMID: 19154990

Results 1-25 (39)