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1.  Enzyme-triggered PEGylated siRNA-nanoparticles for controlled release of siRNA 
A key goal of our recent research efforts has been to develop novel ‘triggerable nanoparticle’ systems with real potential utility in vivo. These are designed to be stable from the point of administration until a target site of interest is reached, then triggered for the controlled release of therapeutic agent payload(s) at the target site by changes in local endogenous conditions or through the application of some exogenous stimulus. Here we describe investigations into the use of enzymes to trigger RNAi-mediated therapy through a process of enzyme-assisted nanoparticle triggerability. Our approach is to use PEG2000-peptidyl lipids with peptidyl moieties sensitive to tumour-localized elastase or matrix metalloproteinase-2 digestion, and from these prepare putative enzyme-triggered PEGylated siRNA-nanoparticles. Our results provide initial proof of concept in vitro. From these data, we propose that this concept should be applicable for functional delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids to tumour cells in vivo, although the mechanism for enzyme-assisted nanoparticle triggerability remains to be fully characterized.
PMCID: PMC3983657  PMID: 24741375
Liposomes; elastase; enzyme; triggerable nanoparticles; triggered release; peptide
3.  Sub-cellular temporal and spatial distribution of electrotransferred LNA/DNA oligomer 
Low biological activity and inefficient targeted delivery in vivo have hindered RNA interference (RNAi)-based therapy from realising its full clinical potential. To overcome these hurdles, progresses have been made to develop new technologies optimizing oligonucleotides chemistry on one hand and achieving its effective delivery on the other hand. In this report, we achieved, by using the electropulsation technique (EP), efficient cellular delivery of chemically-modified oligonucleotide: The locked nucleic acid (LNA)/DNA oligomer. We used single cell level confocal fluorescence microscopy to follow the spatial and temporal distribution of electrotransferred cyanine 5 (Cy5)-labeled LNA/DNA oligomer. We observed that EP allowed LNA/DNA oligomer cellular uptake providing the oligomer a rapid access to the cytoplasm of HeLa cells. Within a few minutes after electrotransfer, Cy5-LNA/DNA oligomers shuttle from cytoplasm to nucleus whereas in absence of pulses application, Cy5-LNA/DNA oligomers were not detected. We then observed a redistribution of the Cy5 fluorescence that accumulated over time into cytoplasmic organelles. To go further and to identify these compartments, we used the HeLa GFP-Rab7 cell line to visualise late endosomes, and lysosomal or mitochondrial specific markers. Our results showed that the EP technique allowed direct entry into the cytoplasm of the Cy5-LNA/DNA oligomer bypassing the endocytosic pathway. However, in absence of pulses application, Cy5-LNA/DNA oligomer were able to enter cells through the endocytosic pathway. We demonstrated that EP is an efficient technique for LNA-based oligonucleotides delivery offering strong advantages by avoiding the endolysosomal compartmentalization, giving a rapid and free access to the cytoplasm and the nucleus where they can find their targets.
PMCID: PMC3717327  PMID: 23946765
Electropulsation; electroporation; RNAi; locked nucleic acid; fluorescence microscopy; cyanine 5 labeling
4.  Anti-PML-RARα shRNA sensitises promyelocytic leukaemia cells to all-trans retinoic acid 
The PML-RARα fusion gene disrupts the retinoic acid differentiation signal in a range of leukaemia types, promoting proliferation. We designed a shRNA to target the fusion mRNA, and the shRNA expression cassette was delivered via lentiviral transduction. Delivery of this shRNA significantly down regulated the target mRNA, with effects also evident at the protein level. When combined with ATRA administration, this down regulation of the fusion gene strongly inhibited proliferation in the NB4 PML cell line.
PMCID: PMC3522483  PMID: 23300507
Leukaemia; PML; shRNA; lentiviral vector
5.  Knockdown of AMP-activated protein kinase alpha 1 and alpha 2 catalytic subunits 
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a master metabolic regulator that responds to the AMP: ATP ratio and promotes ATP production when the cell is low on energy. There are two isoforms of the catalytic alpha subunit, AMPKα1 and AMPKα2. Here, we describe the production of a small interfering RNA (siRNA) and a short hairpin RNA (shRNA) targeting both catalytic isoforms of AMPK in human, mouse, and rat. Multiple loop sequences were tested to generate the most effective shRNA. The shRNA causes significant knockdown of both isoforms of AMPKα in mouse and human cells. The shRNA effectively knocked down AMPKα1 and AMPKα2 protein levels, compared to a five basepair mismatch-control shRNA in mouse fibroblast NIH3T3 cells and significantly knocked down AMPKα1 (63%) and AMPKα2 (72%) levels compared to control in human embryonic kidney cells, HEK293s. The shRNA also causes a significant reduction in AMPK activity, measured as phosphorylation of acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC), a direct phosphorylation target. While the protein levels of total ACC remained the same between the AMPKα1and α2 shRNA and control shRNA-treated cells, there was a 41% reduction in phospho-ACC protein levels. The generation of this AMPKα1and α2 shRNA can be used to stably knock down protein levels and activity of both catalytic isoforms of AMPK in different species to assess function.
PMCID: PMC3542724  PMID: 23316259
AMPK; PRKAA; AMPKα1; AMPKα2; shRNA; siRNA
7.  In vivo knock-down of multidrug resistance transporters ABCC1 and ABCC2 by AAV-delivered shRNAs and by artificial miRNAs 
ABC transporters export clinically-relevant drugs and their over-expression causes multidrug resistance. In order to knock-down ABC transporters, ABCC1 and ABCC2, 13 shRNAs were developed. Four shRNA candidates were tested in vivo using self-complementary adeno-associated virus serotype 8. A strong, specific knock-down of Abbc2 was observed in mice liver, but at the cost of toxicity caused by oversaturation of the RNAi machinery due to high shRNA expression. Subsequent generation of artificial miRNAs showed better efficacy profile. These results demonstrate the feasibility of knocking down Abbc2 via AAV-delivered shRNAs to the liver, and encourage the use of miRNA in further therapeutics development.
PMCID: PMC3131674  PMID: 21769296
shRNA; miRNA; AAV; Abbc1; Abbc2; multidrug resistance; hepatocellular carcinoma
8.  RNA silencing of lactate dehydrogenase gene in Rhizopus oryzae 
Rhizopus oryzae is a filamentous fungus, belonging to the order Mucorales. It can ferment a wide range of carbohydrates hydrolyzed from lignocellulosic materials and even cellobiose to produce ethanol. However, R. oryzae also produces lactic acid as a major metabolite, which reduces the yield of ethanol. In this study, we show that significant reduction of lactic acid production could be achieved by short (25nt) synthetic siRNAs targeting the ldhA gene. The average yield of lactic acid production by R. oryzae during the batch fermentation process, where glucose had been used as a sole carbon source, diminished from 0.07gm/gm in wild type to 0.01gm/gm in silenced samples. In contrast, the average yield of ethanol production increased from 0.39gm/gm in wild type to 0.45gm/gm in silenced samples. These results show 85.7% (gm/gm) reduction in lactic acid production as compared with the wild type R. oryzae, while an increase of 15.4% (gm/gm) in ethanol yield.
PMCID: PMC3131675  PMID: 21769297
siRNA; delivery; Rhizopus oryzae; ldhA gene; lactate dehydrogenase; lactic acid; ethanol production
9.  Post-coupling strategy enables true receptor-targeted nanoparticles 
A key goal of our research is the targeted delivery of functional biopharmaceutical agents of interest, such as small interfering RNA (siRNA), to selected cells by means of receptor-mediated nanoparticle technologies. Recently, we described how pH-triggered, PEGylated siRNA-nanoparticles (pH triggered siRNA-ABC nanoparticles) were able to mediate the passive targeting of siRNA to liver cells in vivo. In addition, PEGylated siRNA nanoparticles enabled for long-term circulation (LTC siRNA-ABC nanoparticles, LEsiRNA nanoparticles) were shown to do the same to tumour cells in vivo. Further gains in the efficiency of siRNA delivery are expected to require active targeting with nanoparticles targeted for delivery and cellular uptake by means of attached biological ligands. Here we report on the development of a new synthetic chemistry and a bioconjugation methodology that allows for the controlled formulation of PEGylated nanoparticles which surface-present integrin-targeting peptides unambiguously and so enable integrin receptor-mediated cellular uptake. Furthermore, we present delivery data that provide a clear preliminary demonstration of physical principles that we propose should underpin successful, bonefide receptor-mediated targeted delivery of therapeutic and/or imaging agents to cells.
PMCID: PMC3211073  PMID: 22091319
Integrin ligand; integrin receptor; nanoparticles; delivery; cellular uptake; siRNA; RNAi
10.  Non-cell-autonomous RNA interference in mammalian cells: Implications for in vivo cell-based RNAi delivery 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional pathway in which double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggers the degradation of complementary mRNA in the cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells. In plants and in some animals, including Caenorhabditis elegans, initiation of RNAi in one cell can lead to sequence-specific RNA silencing in another cell, a phenomenon referred to as non-cell-autonomous RNAi. Until recently, this phenomenon had not been observed in mammalian cells. Here, we review emerging data demonstrating that non-cell-autonomous RNAi occurs in cultured mammalian cells. We discuss possible mechanisms for the transfer of RNAi between mammalian cells and highlight the implications of this phenomenon for the development of in vivo cell-based RNAi delivery.
PMCID: PMC3244743  PMID: 22205888
RNAi; siRNA; miRNA; non-cell-autonomous RNAi; systemic RNAi; RNAi delivery; cell-based delivery
12.  RNAi2010: Gene Regulation by Small RNAs 
17-18 March 2010, St Hilda's College, Oxford, United Kingdom
PMCID: PMC2902139
14.  RNAi effects on actin mRNAs in Homalodisca vitripennis cells 
The xylem feeding leafhopper Homalodisaca vitripennis (H. vitripennis) is an unusually robust and efficient vector of Xylella fastidiosa, a Gram-negative bacterium which causes several very important plant diseases. Here we investigated RNA interference (RNAi) to target actin, a key component of insect cells and whole bodies, in H. vitripennis cells. RNAi effectors were delivered via lipid based transfection and real-time RT-PCR, RNA hybridization, and microscopic analyses were employed to verify RNAi effects. When actin dsRNAs were used, a 10-fold decrease in the target H. vitripennis actin mRNA level was seen in cells. Altered phenotypic effects also were evident in transfected cells, as were small interfering RNAs, hallmarks of RNAi. The use of H. vitripennis cells and RNAi offers new opportunities to research hemipterans, the most important insect vectors of plant pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2902141  PMID: 20628496
Homalodisca vitripennis; RNA interference; glassy-winged sharpshooter; Pierce's disease
15.  First siRNA library screening in hard-to-transfect HUVEC cells 
Meaningful RNAi-based data for target gene identification are strongly dependent on the use of a biologically relevant cell type and efficient delivery of highly functional siRNA reagents into the selected cell type. Here we report the use of the Amaxa® Nucleofector® 96-well Shuttle® System for siRNA screening in primary cells. Lonza's Clonetics® HUVEC-Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells were transfected with Thermo Scientific Dharmacon siGENOME® siRNA Libraries targeting protein kinases and cell cycle related genes and screened for genes important for cell viability. Of the 37 primary hits, down-regulation of 33 led to reduced proliferation or increased cell death, while down-regulation of two allowed for better cell viability. The validated four genes out of the 16 strongest primary hits (COPB2, PYCS, CDK4 and MYC) influenced cell proliferation to varying degrees, reflecting differing importance for survival of HUVEC cells. Our results demonstrate that the Nucleofector® 96-well Shuttle® System allows the delivery of siRNA libraries in cell types previously considered to be difficult to transfect. Thus, identification and validation of gene targets can now be conducted in primary cells, as the selection of cell types is not limited to those accessible by lipid-mediated transfection.
PMCID: PMC2902142  PMID: 20628494
Nucleofection; RNAi; siRNA; primary cell; screening; transfection; HUVEC
16.  microRNA machinery is an integral component of drug-induced transcription inhibition in HIV-1 infection 
RNA interference plays a significant role in manipulating cellular and viral mechanisms to maintain latency during HIV-1 infection. HIV-1 produces several microRNAs including one from the TAR element which alter the host's response to infection. Since cyclin/cdk complexes are important for viral transcription, these studies focus on the possible cdk inhibitors that inhibit viral transcription, without affecting normal cellular mechanisms. Roscovitine and Flavopiridol are well-studied cdk inhibitors that are effective at suppressing their target cdks at a low IC50. These cdk inhibitors and possibly future generations of drugs are affected by microRNA mechanisms. From our studies, we developed a third generation derivative called CR8#13. In cells that lack Dicer there was a higher level of basal viral LTR-reporter transcription. When drugs, specifically Flavopiridol and CR8#13 were added, the transcriptional inhibition of the LTR was less potent in cells that lacked Dicer. Also, after transfection with HIV-1 clone (pNL4.3), CR8 and CR8#13 derivatives were shown to be more effective viral transcription inhibitors in cell lines that contained Dicer (T-cells) as compared to Dicer deficient lines (monocytes). We next asked whether the addition of CR8 or CR8#13 could possibly increase levels of TAR microRNA in HIV-1 LTR containing cells. We demonstrate that the 3'TAR microRNA is produced in higher amounts after drug treatment, resulting in microRNA recruitment to the LTR. MicroRNA recruitment results in chromatin alteration, changes in Pol II phosphorylation and viral transcription inhibition. In conclusion, our results indicate that viral microRNA, specifically the TAR microRNA produced from the HIV-1 LTR is responsible for maintaining latent infections by manipulating host cell mechanisms to limit transcription from the viral LTR promoter. With the microRNA machinery present, cdk inhibitors are able to significantly increase the amount of TAR microRNA, leading to downregulation of viral LTR transcription.
PMCID: PMC2902143  PMID: 20628499
microRNA; HIV-1; TAR; cdk inhibitor; ATP analogs; Tat transactivation
17.  Prediction of human targets for viral-encoded microRNAs by thermodynamics and empirical constraints 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNA molecules that modulate gene expression through degradation of specific mRNAs and/or repression of their translation. miRNAs are involved in both physiological and pathological processes, such as apoptosis and cancer. Their presence has been demonstrated in several organisms as well as in viruses. Virus encoded miRNAs can act as viral gene expression regulators, but they may also interfere with the expression of host genes. Viral miRNAs may control host cell proliferation by targeting cell-cycle and apoptosis regulators. Therefore, they could be involved in cancer pathogenesis. Computational prediction of miRNA/target pairs is a fundamental step in these studies. Here, we describe the use of miRiam, a novel program based on both thermodynamics features and empirical constraints, to predict viral miRNAs/human targets interactions. miRiam exploits target mRNA secondary structure accessibility and interaction rules, inferred from validated miRNA/mRNA pairs. A set of genes involved in apoptosis and cell-cycle regulation was identified as target for our studies. This choice was supported by the knowledge that DNA tumor viruses interfere with the above processes in humans. miRNAs were selected from two cancer-related viruses, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and Kaposi-Sarcoma-Associated Herpes Virus (KSHV). Results show that several transcripts possess potential binding sites for these miRNAs. This work has produced a set of plausible hypotheses of involvement of v-miRNAs and human apoptosis genes in cancer development. Our results suggest that during viral infection, besides the protein-based host regulation mechanism, a post-transcriptional level interference may exist. miRiam is freely available for downloading at http://ferrolab.dmi.unict.it/miriam.
PMCID: PMC2902144  PMID: 20628498
miRNA; virus; cancer; apoptosis; cell cycle; EBV; KSHV
18.  RNAi2010: Gene Regulation by Small RNAs 
17-18 March 2010, St Hilda's College, Oxford, United Kingdom
PMCID: PMC2902145
20.  Identification of small interfering RNA targeting Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 6: Characterisation and selection of candidates for pre-clinical development 
The interleukin (IL)-13 pathway and its associated transcription factor, signal transducer and activator of transcription 6 (STAT6), have been clearly implicated in the pathogenesis of bronchial asthma. We have developed a system to effectively screen the STAT6 gene for targeting with small interfering (si) RNA molecules. By incorporating an in silico and in vitro screening system we were able to identify fourteen siRNA molecules suitable for pre-clinical drug development. Furthermore, we were able to demonstrate that modification of certain siRNAs, designed to improve in vivo longevity, was possible without significant loss of target knockdown efficacy and that the siRNA produced by our selection process did not induce demonstrable interferon responses. These data suggest that several STAT6-targeting siRNA suitable for pre-clinical development are available for potential use in the treatment of asthma.
PMCID: PMC2943664  PMID: 20927184
Asthma; STAT6; IL-13; siRNA; Pre-clinical development
21.  A streamlined sub-cloning procedure to transfer shRNA from a pSM2 vector to a pGIPZ lentiviral vector 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a widely used molecular biology technique to investigate the importance of specific genes in molecular pathways. Since mammalian cells are equipped with endogenous RNAi processing machinery, it has become common practice to transfect constructs that encode for short hairpin RNAs that are then cleaved to form the active RNAi sequences that bind to target mRNAs. Given the profit potential of this research approach, companies have developed retroviral libraries of shRNA constructs targeting the majority of the human genes. Recent technologic advances have allowed the rapid improvement of the vectors carrying the shRNA constructs while the silencing sequences remain the same. Therefore, sub-cloning of shRNA sequences from more obsolete vectors to newer vectors is a straightforward way to take advantage of newer delivery technologies. We describe here a streamlined procedure to transfer shRNA sequences from the pSM2 retroviral vector to a newer pGIPZ vector that is more stable, contains a GFP cassette and allows the preparation of high titer viral particles for transduction of cells and in vivo use. We demonstrate that our protocol provides a cost-effective and fast method to successfully sub-clone shRNA from a pSM2 retroviral vector to a pGIPZ lentiviral vector making it a useful tool for the investigators that have purchased pSM2 vectors in the past and wish now to upgrade their constructs by inserting them in more versatile vectors.
PMCID: PMC2995545  PMID: 21139985
Sub-cloning; shRNA; RNA interference; lentivirus; retrovirus; pSM2; pGIPZ; pTRIPZ
22.  Cell-specific RNA interference by peptide-inhibited-peptidase-activated siRNAs 
The use of chemically-synthesized short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) is the key method of choice to manipulate gene expression in mammalian cell cultures and in vivo. Several previous studies have aimed at inducing cell-specific RNA interference (RNAi) in order to use siRNA molecules as therapeutic reagents. Here, we used peptide-inhibited siRNAs that were activated after cleavage by cell-specific peptidases. We show that siRNAs with bound peptide at the antisense strand could be activated in target cells and were able to induce RNAi in a cell-specific manner. Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) and Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription (STAT)-3 gene expression were selectively reduced in a JEG-3 human choriocarcinoma cell line expressing the activating enzyme caspase-4, whereas the effect was absent in HEK cells which lacked the enzyme. In JEG-3 cells, reduction of STAT3 gene expression by conventional and peptide-inhibited siRNA led to a decrease in cell proliferation. This suggests that peptide-inhibited siRNAs provide improved cell specificity and offers new opportunities for their therapeutic use.
PMCID: PMC3043559  PMID: 21350683
Caspase-4; peptidase; cell-specific siRNA; RNAi
23.  Evaluation of RNA-knockdown strategies for modulation of cytochrome P450 reductase activity in mouse hepatocytes 
Transgenic technologies can provide important animal models for studying drug-metabolizing enzymes. Our overall aim was to generate versatile cell and animal systems that exhibited varying levels of cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase (POR) activity, more accurately modelling the human population for pharmacological and toxicology studies. Towards this goal we evaluated RNA-interference constructs designed for use in vitro and in vivo for reducing POR activity in hepatocytes. This study clearly demonstrates that both POR protein level and reductase activity can be significantly knocked down in Hepa-1 cells in vitro, while highlighting the difficulty in predicting knockdown efficiency in transgenic animals. The high levels of embryonic lethality observed, and inability to produce multi-copy transgenic animals indicates that high levels of shRNA expression may be detrimental to embryonic development.
PMCID: PMC3043560  PMID: 21350684
RNA-interference; drug metabolism; lentivirus vectors; liver metabolism; transgenic mice
24.  Establishment of a positive-readout reporter system for siRNAs 
The use of small interfering RNA molecules for therapeutic applications requires development of improved delivery systems, a process that would be facilitated by a non-invasive positive-readout mouse model for studying siRNA pharmacodynamics. Positive readout would yield better signal/noise ratios than existing negative-readout systems. We have engineered a positive-readout luciferase reporter system, activated by successful delivery of siRNA targeting the lac repressor. Co-transfection of a plasmid expressing lac repressor and a plasmid expressing firefly luciferase under the control of an RSV promoter, containing two lac operator sites, resulted in 5.7-fold lower luciferase activity than luciferase-encoding plasmid alone. Inhibition was reversed following addition of synthetic inducer, IPTG, which elevated luciferase expression to normal levels and confirmed functionality of the lac operon. Delivery of 1nM siRNA targeting lac repressor to repressor/reporter co-transfected cells was sufficient to fully restore luciferase expression to levels observed in the absence of repressor. Maximum expression was observed after 48hr, with a rapid decrease thereafter due to the short half life of luciferase. The luciferase positive-readout reporter system is therefore a dynamic indicator of successful RNAi delivery in vitro and could be adapted to generate a transgenic mouse capable of reporting RNAi activity non-invasively in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2737236  PMID: 19771230
siRNA; inducible system; lac operon; RNAi; gene silencing; reporter system
25.  Silencing of carbonic anhydrase in an Anopheles gambiae larval cell line, Ag55 
RNAi has been used extensively to down-regulate proteins in adult mosquitoes; however, it is not well adapted for use in larvae. Larval mosquitoes can generate a pH as high as 10.5 in the anterior region of their midgut. The mechanisms responsible for the generation and maintenance of this pH are not entirely understood, but members of the carbonic anhydrase (CA) family of enzymes have been implicated. Here we use an An. gambiae larval cell line, Ag55 cells, to demonstrate that application of full-length double-stranded RNA specific to one CA, AgCA9, is sufficient to silence AgCA9 mRNA and down-regulate the corresponding protein. This is a first step towards determining the role(s) of these enzymes in pH regulation.
PMCID: PMC2737235  PMID: 19771232
Carbonic anhydrase; Ag55; larval cell; Anopheles gambiae; RNAi; gene silencing

Results 1-25 (66)