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1.  Targeting of Repeated Sequences Unique to a Gene Results in Significant Increases in Antisense Oligonucleotide Potency 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e110615.
A new strategy for identifying potent RNase H-dependent antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) is presented. Our analysis of the human transcriptome revealed that a significant proportion of genes contain unique repeated sequences of 16 or more nucleotides in length. Activities of ASOs targeting these repeated sites in several representative genes were compared to those of ASOs targeting unique single sites in the same transcript. Antisense activity at repeated sites was also evaluated in a highly controlled minigene system. Targeting both native and minigene repeat sites resulted in significant increases in potency as compared to targeting of non-repeated sites. The increased potency at these sites is a result of increased frequency of ASO/RNA interactions which, in turn, increases the probability of a productive interaction between the ASO/RNA heteroduplex and human RNase H1 in the cell. These results suggest a new, highly efficient strategy for rapid identification of highly potent ASOs.
PMCID: PMC4198294  PMID: 25334092
2.  Antisense Oligonucleotides Capable of Promoting Specific Target mRNA Reduction via Competing RNase H1-Dependent and Independent Mechanisms 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e108625.
Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) are most commonly designed to reduce targeted RNA via RNase H1-dependent degradation. In this paper we demonstrate that cellular proteins can compete for sites targeted by RNase H1-dependent ASOs. We further show that some ASOs designed to mediate RNase H1 cleavage can, in certain instances, promote target reduction both by RNase H1-mediated cleavage and by steric inhibition of binding of splicing factors at a site required for efficient processing of the pre-mRNA. In the latter case, RNase H cleavage was prevented by binding of a second protein, HSPA8, to the ASO/pre-mRNA heteroduplex. In addition, using a precisely controlled minigene system, we directly demonstrated that activity of ASOs targeting sites in introns is strongly influenced by splicing efficiency.
PMCID: PMC4191969  PMID: 25299183
3.  Defining the Factors That Contribute to On-Target Specificity of Antisense Oligonucleotides 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e101752.
To better understand the factors that influence the activity and specificity of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), we designed a minigene encoding superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD-1) and cloned the minigene into vectors for T7 transcription of pre-mRNA and splicing in a nuclear extract or for stable integration in cells. We designed a series of ASOs that covered the entire mRNA and determined the binding affinities and activities of the ASOs in a cell-free system and in cells. The mRNA bound known RNA-binding proteins on predicted binding sites in the mRNA. The higher order structure of the mRNA had a significantly greater effect than the RNA-binding proteins on ASO binding affinities as the ASO activities in cells and in the cell-free systems were consistent. We identified several ASOs that exhibited off-target hybridization to the SOD-1 minigene mRNA in the cell-free system. Off-target hybridization occurred only at highly accessible unstructured sites in the mRNA and these interactions were inhibited by both the higher order structure of the mRNA and by RNA-binding proteins. The same off-target hybridization interactions were identified in cells that overexpress E. coli RNase H1. No off-target activity was observed for cells expressing only endogenous human RNase H1. Neither were these off-target heteroduplexes substrates for recombinant human RNase H1 under multiple-turnover kinetics suggesting that the endogenous enzyme functions under similar kinetic parameters in cells and in the cell-free system. These results provide a blueprint for design of more potent and more specific ASOs.
PMCID: PMC4114480  PMID: 25072142
4.  siRNAs targeted to certain polyadenylation sites promote specific, RISC-independent degradation of messenger RNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(13):6223-6234.
While most siRNAs induce sequence-specific target mRNA cleavage and degradation in a process mediated by Ago2/RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), certain siRNAs have also been demonstrated to direct target RNA reduction through deadenylation and subsequent degradation of target transcripts in a process which involves Ago1/RISC and P-bodies. In the current study, we present data suggesting that a third class of siRNA exist, which are capable of promoting target RNA reduction that is independent of both Ago and RISC. These siRNAs bind the target messenger RNA at the polyA signal and are capable of redirecting a small amount of polyadenylation to downstream polyA sites when present, however, the majority of the activity appears to be due to inhibition of polyadenylation or deadenylation of the transcript, followed by exosomal degradation of the immature mRNA.
PMCID: PMC3401429  PMID: 22422842
5.  Peptide Nucleic Acids Conjugated to Short Basic Peptides Show Improved Pharmacokinetics and Antisense Activity in Adipose Tissue 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2010;53(10):3919-3926.
A peptide nucleic acid (PNA) targeting a splice junction of the murine PTEN primary transcript was covalently conjugated to various basic peptides. When systemically administered to healthy mice, the conjugates displayed sequence-specific alteration of PTEN mRNA splicing as well as inhibition of full length PTEN protein expression. Correlating activity with drug concentration in various tissues indicated strong tissue-dependence with highest levels of activity observed in adipose tissue. While the presence of a peptide carrier was found to be crucial for efficient delivery to tissue, little difference was observed between the various peptides evaluated. A second PNA-conjugate targeting the murine insulin receptor primary transcript showed a similar activity profile suggesting that short basic peptides can generally be used to effectively deliver peptide nucleic acids to adipose tissue.
PMCID: PMC3072269  PMID: 20420385
6.  U1 adaptors result in reduction of multiple pre-mRNA species principally by sequestering U1snRNP 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(10):e71.
U1 Adaptors are a recently reported novel approach for targeted reduction of mRNA transcripts. A U1 adaptor oligonucleotide comprising of a target-complimentary hybridization domain and a U1 recruitment domain, directs the U1 snRNP complex to the terminal exon of a targeted gene, subsequently inhibiting poly(A) tail addition and leading to degradation of that RNA species within the nucleus. Here, we present data demonstrating U1 adapter-mediated gene silencing can result in significant ‘off-target’ silencing effects as demonstrated by the reduction of multiple mRNA species that were not intended to be targeted. Our data suggest that a substantial portion of this U1 adaptor-mediated off-target mRNA reduction is the result of sequestration U1 snRNP at levels sufficient to affect splicing and processing of non-target transcripts.
PMCID: PMC3105408  PMID: 21415007
7.  Efficient and specific knockdown of small non-coding RNAs in mammalian cells and in mice 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(3):e13.
Hundreds of small nuclear non-coding RNAs, including small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), have been identified in different organisms, with important implications in regulating gene expression and in human diseases. However, functionalizing these nuclear RNAs in mammalian cells remains challenging, due to methodological difficulties in depleting these RNAs, especially snoRNAs. Here we report a convenient and efficient approach to deplete snoRNA, small Cajal body RNA (scaRNA) and small nuclear RNA in human and mouse cells by conventional transfection of chemically modified antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that promote RNaseH-mediated cleavage of target RNAs. The levels of all seven tested snoRNA/scaRNAs and four snRNAs were reduced by 80–95%, accompanied by impaired endogenous functions of the target RNAs. ASO-targeting is highly specific, without affecting expression of the host genes where snoRNAs are embedded in the introns, nor affecting the levels of snoRNA isoforms with high sequence similarities. At least five snoRNAs could be depleted simultaneously. Importantly, snoRNAs could be dramatically depleted in mice by systematic administration of the ASOs. Together, our findings provide a convenient and efficient approach to characterize nuclear non-coding RNAs in mammalian cells, and to develop antisense drugs against disease-causing non-coding RNAs.
PMCID: PMC3035437  PMID: 21062825
8.  Off-target and a portion of target-specific siRNA mediated mRNA degradation is Ago2 ‘Slicer’ independent and can be mediated by Ago1 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(20):6927-6941.
It is known that siRNAs are capable of reducing expression of non-target genes due to the interaction of the siRNA guide strand with a partially complementary site on the ‘off-target’ mRNA. In the current study, we show that reduction of cellular Ago2 levels has no effect on off-target reduction of endogenous genes and that off-target degradation of mRNA can occur even in an Ago2 knockout cell line. Using antisense mediated reduction of Ago proteins and chemically modified cleavage- and binding-deficient siRNAs, we demonstrate that siRNA mediated off-target reduction is Ago2 cleavage independent, but does require siRNA interaction with either Ago1 or Ago2 and the RISC-loading complex. We also show that depletion of P-body associated proteins results in a reduction of off-target siRNA-mediated degradation of mRNA. Finally, we present data suggesting that a significant portion of on-target siRNA activity is also Ago2 cleavage independent, however, this activity does not appear to be P-body associated.
PMCID: PMC2777430  PMID: 19767612
9.  Activating the synthesis of progerin, the mutant prelamin A in Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome, with antisense oligonucleotides 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(13):2462-2471.
Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) is caused by point mutations that increase utilization of an alternate splice donor site in exon 11 of LMNA (the gene encoding lamin C and prelamin A). The alternate splicing reduces transcripts for wild-type prelamin A and increases transcripts for a truncated prelamin A (progerin). Here, we show that antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) against exon 11 sequences downstream from the exon 11 splice donor site promote alternate splicing in both wild-type and HGPS fibroblasts, increasing the synthesis of progerin. Indeed, wild-type fibroblasts transfected with these ASOs exhibit progerin levels similar to (or greater than) those in fibroblasts from HGPS patients. This progerin was farnesylated, as judged by metabolic labeling studies. The synthesis of progerin in wild-type fibroblasts was accompanied by the same nuclear shape and gene-expression perturbations observed in HGPS fibroblasts. An ASO corresponding to the 5′ portion of intron 11 also promoted alternate splicing. In contrast, an ASO against exon 11 sequences 5′ to the alternate splice site reduced alternate splicing in HGPS cells and modestly lowered progerin levels. Thus, different ASOs can be used to increase or decrease ‘HGPS splicing’. ASOs represent a new and powerful tool for recreating HGPS pathophysiology in wild-type cells.
PMCID: PMC2694694  PMID: 19376814
10.  Reduced levels of Ago2 expression result in increased siRNA competition in mammalian cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(19):6598-6610.
Administration of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) leads to degradation of specific mRNAs utilizing the cellular RNA interference (RNAi) machinery. It has been demonstrated that co-administration of siRNAs may lead to attenuation of activity of one of the siRNAs. Utilizing antisense and siRNA-mediated RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) gene reduction we show that siRNA competition is correlated with differences in the cellular expression levels of Ago2, while levels of other RISC proteins have no effect on competition. We also show that under certain conditions siRNA competition rather than reduction of cellular RISC levels may be responsible for apparent reduction in siRNA activity. Furthermore, exploiting siRNA competition, we show that the RISC pathway loads and results in detectable cleavage of the target RNA in ∼2 h after transfection. The RISC pathway is also capable of being reloaded even in the absence of new protein synthesis. RISC reloading and subsequent induction of detectable cleavage of a new target RNA, requires about 9–12 h following the initial transfection.
PMCID: PMC2095815  PMID: 17905815
11.  Enhancement of SMN2 Exon 7 Inclusion by Antisense Oligonucleotides Targeting the Exon 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(4):e73.
Several strategies have been pursued to increase the extent of exon 7 inclusion during splicing of SMN2 (survival of motor neuron 2) transcripts, for eventual therapeutic use in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disease. Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that target an exon or its flanking splice sites usually promote exon skipping. Here we systematically tested a large number of ASOs with a 2′-O-methoxy-ethyl ribose (MOE) backbone that hybridize to different positions of SMN2 exon 7, and identified several that promote greater exon inclusion, others that promote exon skipping, and still others with complex effects on the accumulation of the two alternatively spliced products. This approach provides positional information about presumptive exonic elements or secondary structures with positive or negative effects on exon inclusion. The ASOs are effective not only in cell-free splicing assays, but also when transfected into cultured cells, where they affect splicing of endogenous SMN transcripts. The ASOs that promote exon 7 inclusion increase full-length SMN protein levels, demonstrating that they do not interfere with mRNA export or translation, despite hybridizing to an exon. Some of the ASOs we identified are sufficiently active to proceed with experiments in SMA mouse models.
Author Summary
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a severe genetic disease that causes motor-neuron degeneration. SMA patients lack a functional SMN1 (survival of motor neuron 1) gene, but they possess an intact SMN2 gene, which though nearly identical to SMN1, is only partially functional. The defect in SMN2 gene expression is at the level of pre-mRNA splicing (skipping of exon 7), and the presence of this gene in all SMA patients makes it an attractive target for potential therapy. Here we have surveyed a large number of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that are complementary to different regions of exon 7 in the SMN2 mRNA. A few of these ASOs are able to correct the pre-mRNA splicing defect, presumably because they bind to regions of exon 7 that form RNA structures, or provide protein-binding sites, that normally weaken the recognition of this exon by the splicing machinery in the cell nucleus. We describe optimal ASOs that promote correct expression of SMN2 mRNA and, therefore, normal SMN protein, in cultured cells from SMA patients. These ASOs can now be tested in mouse models of SMA, and may be useful for SMA therapy.
Mutations inSMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy; a nearly identical gene is not functional, but becomes functional in vitro and in vivo after addition of antisense oligos.
PMCID: PMC1820610  PMID: 17355180
12.  Prelamin A and lamin A appear to be dispensable in the nuclear lamina 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2006;116(3):743-752.
Lamin A and lamin C, both products of Lmna, are key components of the nuclear lamina. In the mouse, a deficiency in both lamin A and lamin C leads to slow growth, muscle weakness, and death by 6 weeks of age. Fibroblasts deficient in lamins A and C contain misshapen and structurally weakened nuclei, and emerin is mislocalized away from the nuclear envelope. The physiologic rationale for the existence of the 2 different Lmna products lamin A and lamin C is unclear, although several reports have suggested that lamin A may have particularly important functions, for example in the targeting of emerin and lamin C to the nuclear envelope. Here we report the development of lamin C–only mice (Lmna+/+), which produce lamin C but no lamin A or prelamin A (the precursor to lamin A). Lmna+/+ mice were entirely healthy, and Lmna+/+ cells displayed normal emerin targeting and exhibited only very minimal alterations in nuclear shape and nuclear deformability. Thus, at least in the mouse, prelamin A and lamin A appear to be dispensable. Nevertheless, an accumulation of farnesyl–prelamin A (as occurs with a deficiency in the prelamin A processing enzyme Zmpste24) caused dramatically misshapen nuclei and progeria-like disease phenotypes. The apparent dispensability of prelamin A suggested that lamin A–related progeroid syndromes might be treated with impunity by reducing prelamin A synthesis. Remarkably, the presence of a single LmnaLCO allele eliminated the nuclear shape abnormalities and progeria-like disease phenotypes in Zmpste24–/– mice. Moreover, treating Zmpste24–/– cells with a prelamin A–specific antisense oligonucleotide reduced prelamin A levels and significantly reduced the frequency of misshapen nuclei. These studies suggest a new therapeutic strategy for treating progeria and other lamin A diseases.
PMCID: PMC1386109  PMID: 16511604
13.  Fully modified 2′ MOE oligonucleotides redirect polyadenylation 
Nucleic Acids Research  2001;29(6):1293-1299.
Many genes have been described and characterized that have alternative polyadenylation signals at the 3′-end of their pre-mRNAs. Many of these same messages also contain destabilization motifs responsible for rapid degradation of the mRNA. Polyadenylation site selection can thus determine the stability of an mRNA. Fully modified 2′-O-methoxy ethyl/phosphorothioate oligonucleotides that hybridize to the 3′-most polyadenylation site or signal of E-selectin were able to inhibit polyadenylation at this site and redirect it to one of two upstream cryptic sites. The shorter transcripts produced after antisense treatment have fewer destabilization sequences, increased mRNA stability and altered protein expression. This study demonstrates that antisense oligonucleotides can be successfully employed to redirect polyadenylation. This is the first demonstration of the use of oligonucleotides to increase, rather than decrease, abundance of a message.
PMCID: PMC29745  PMID: 11238995
14.  Effects of RNA secondary structure on cellular antisense activity 
Nucleic Acids Research  2000;28(6):1340-1347.
The secondary and tertiary structures of a mRNA are known to effect hybridization efficiency and potency of antisense oligonucleotides in vitro. Additional factors including oligonucleotide stability and cellular uptake are also thought to contribute to antisense potency in vivo. Each of these factors can be affected by the sequence of the oligonucleotide. Although mRNA structure is presumed to be a critical determinant of antisense activity in cells, to date little direct experimental evidence has addressed the significance of structure. In order to determine the importance of mRNA structure on antisense activity, oligonucleotide target sites were cloned into a luciferase reporter gene along with adjoining sequence to form known structures. This allowed us to study the effect of target secondary structure on oligonucleotide binding in the cellular environment without changing the sequence of the oligonucleotide. Our results show that structure does play a significant role in determining oligonucleotide efficacy in vivo. We also show that potency of oligonucleotides can be improved by altering chemistry to increase affinity for the mRNA target even in a region that is highly structured.
PMCID: PMC111043  PMID: 10684928

Results 1-14 (14)