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1.  COSMID: A Web-based Tool for Identifying and Validating CRISPR/Cas Off-target Sites 
Precise genome editing using engineered nucleases can significantly facilitate biological studies and disease treatment. In particular, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) with CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins are a potentially powerful tool for modifying a genome by targeted cleavage of DNA sequences complementary to designed guide strand RNAs. Although CRISPR/Cas systems can have on-target cleavage rates close to the transfection rates, they may also have relatively high off-target cleavage at similar genomic sites that contain one or more base pair mismatches, and insertions or deletions relative to the guide strand. We have developed a bioinformatics-based tool, COSMID (CRISPR Off-target Sites with Mismatches, Insertions, and Deletions) that searches genomes for potential off-target sites ( Based on the user-supplied guide strand and input parameters, COSMID identifies potential off-target sites with the specified number of mismatched bases and insertions or deletions when compared with the guide strand. For each site, amplification primers optimal for the chosen application are also given as output. This ranked-list of potential off-target sites assists the choice and evaluation of intended target sites, thus helping the design of CRISPR/Cas systems with minimal off-target effects, as well as the identification and quantification of CRISPR/Cas induced off-target cleavage in cells.
PMCID: PMC4272406  PMID: 25462530
bioinformatics; bulges; off-target; program; RISPR; specificity
2.  Comparison Between Several Integrase-defective Lentiviral Vectors Reveals Increased Integration of an HIV Vector Bearing a D167H Mutant 
HIV-1 derived vectors are among the most efficient for gene transduction in mammalian tissues. As the parent virus, they carry out vector genome insertion into the host cell chromatin. Consequently, their preferential integration in transcribed genes raises several conceptual and safety issues. To address part of these questions, HIV-derived vectors have been engineered to be nonintegrating. This was mainly achieved by mutating HIV-1 integrase at functional hotspots of the enzyme enabling the development of streamlined nuclear DNA circles functional for transgene expression. Few integrase mutant vectors have been successfully tested so far for gene transfer. They are cleared with time in mitotic cells, but stable within nondividing retina cells or neurons. Here, we compared six HIV vectors carrying different integrases, either wild type or with different mutations (D64V, D167H, Q168A, K186Q+Q214L+Q216L, and RRK262-264AAH) shown to modify integrase enzymatic activity, oligomerization, or interaction with key cellular cofactor of HIV DNA integration as LEDGF/p75 or TNPO3. We show that these mutations differently affect the transduction efficiency as well as rates and patterns of integration of HIV-derived vectors suggesting their different processing in the nucleus. Surprisingly and most interestingly, we report that an integrase carrying the D167H substitution improves vector transduction efficiency and integration in both HEK-293T and primary CD34+ cells.
PMCID: PMC4272407  PMID: 25462529
CD34+ progenitors; integrase; integration sites; lentiviral vectors; residual integration; transduction
3.  Targeting Hepatitis B Virus With CRISPR/Cas9 
Hepatitis B virus persistence in infected hepatocytes is due to the presence of covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA), the template for the transcription of viral RNAs. Antiviral therapies with nucleoside analogues inhibit replication of HBV DNA in capsids present in the cytoplasm of infected cells, but do not reduce or destroy nuclear cccDNA. To investigate whether cccDNA derived from infectious HBV could be directly targeted for destruction, we used the CRISPR/Cas9 system in HepG2 cells expressing the HBV receptor sodium taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide (NTCP). We tested different HBV-specific guide RNAs and demonstrated that they could inhibit HBV infections up to eightfold. Inhibition was due to mutations and deletions in cccDNA similar to those observed with chromosomal DNA cleaved by Cas9 and repaired by nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ). Interferon alpha (IFN-α) did not have a measurable effect on the antiviral activity of the CRISPR/Cas9 system, suggesting that Cas9 and NHEJ activities are not affected by induction of an innate immune response with the cytokine. Taken together, our results demonstrated that Cas9 can be recruited to cccDNA, opening the possibility for the development of future antiviral strategies aimed at targeting cccDNA for endonucleolytic cleavage with small molecules.
PMCID: PMC4272409  PMID: 25514649
antiviral therapy; chronic hepatitis B; covalently closed circular DNA; CRISPR/Cas9; hepatitis B virus; nonhomologous end joining
4.  Identification and Characterization of an eIF4e DNA Aptamer That Inhibits Proliferation With High Throughput Sequencing 
Development of DNA aptamer screens that are both simple and informative can increase the success rate of DNA aptamer selection and induce greater adoption. High eIF4e levels contribute to malignancies, thus eIF4e presents itself as a valuable target for DNA aptamer-based inhibition screen. Here, we demonstrate a method for the rapid selection of looped DNA aptamers against eIF4e by combining negative selection and purification in a single step, followed by characterization with high throughput sequencing. The resulting aptamers show functional binding to eIF4e and inhibit translation initiation in biochemical assays. When transfected into cells, eIF4e aptamers cause a dramatic loss of cell proliferation in tumor cells as seen with eIF4e knockdown with antisense oligonucleotides, shRNAs, and siRNAs, hinting at therapeutic possibilities. With the large data set provided by high throughput sequencing, we demonstrate that selection happens in waves and that sequencing data can be used to infer aptamer structure. Lastly, we show that ligation of looped aptamers can enhance their functional effects. These results demonstrate a rapid protocol to screen and optimize aptamers against macromolecules of interest.
PMCID: PMC4272410  PMID: 25514650
Aptamer; eIF4e; SELEX; proliferation
5.  Preparation of Small RNAs Using Rolling Circle Transcription and Site-Specific RNA Disconnection 
A facile and robust RNA preparation protocol was developed by combining rolling circle transcription (RCT) with RNA cleavage by RNase H. Circular DNA with a complementary sequence was used as the template for promoter-free transcription. With the aid of a 2′-O-methylated DNA, the RCT-generated tandem repeats of the desired RNA sequence were disconnected at the exact end-to-end position to harvest the desired RNA oligomers. Compared with the template DNA, more than 4 × 103 times the amount of small RNA products were obtained when modest cleavage was carried out during transcription. Large amounts of RNA oligomers could easily be obtained by simply increasing the reaction volume.
PMCID: PMC4272408  PMID: 25584899
biosynthesis; RNase H; RNA oligonucleotides; rolling circle transcription; site-specific cleavage
6.  Nucleic Acid Ligands With Protein-like Side Chains: Modified Aptamers and Their Use as Diagnostic and Therapeutic Agents 
Limited chemical diversity of nucleic acid libraries has long been suspected to be a major constraining factor in the overall success of SELEX (Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment). Despite this constraint, SELEX has enjoyed considerable success over the past quarter of a century as a result of the enormous size of starting libraries and conformational richness of nucleic acids. With judicious introduction of functional groups absent in natural nucleic acids, the “diversity gap” between nucleic acid–based ligands and protein-based ligands can be substantially bridged, to generate a new class of ligands that represent the best of both worlds. We have explored the effect of various functional groups at the 5-position of uracil and found that hydrophobic aromatic side chains have the most profound influence on the success rate of SELEX and allow the identification of ligands with very low dissociation rate constants (named Slow Off-rate Modified Aptamers or SOMAmers). Such modified nucleotides create unique intramolecular motifs and make direct contacts with proteins. Importantly, SOMAmers engage their protein targets with surfaces that have significantly more hydrophobic character compared with conventional aptamers, thereby increasing the range of epitopes that are available for binding. These improvements have enabled us to build a collection of SOMAmers to over 3,000 human proteins encompassing major families such as growth factors, cytokines, enzymes, hormones, and receptors, with additional SOMAmers aimed at pathogen and rodent proteins. Such a large and growing collection of exquisite affinity reagents expands the scope of possible applications in diagnostics and therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4217074  PMID: 25291143
7.  Chondroitin Sulfate is the Primary Receptor for a Peptide-Modified AAV That Targets Brain Vascular Endothelium In Vivo 
Recently, we described a peptide-modified AAV2 vector (AAV-GMN) containing a capsid-displayed peptide that directs in vivo brain vascular targeting and transduction when delivered intravenously. In this study, we sought to identify the receptor that mediates transduction by AAV-GMN. We found that AAV-GMN, but not AAV2, readily transduces the murine brain endothelial cell line bEnd.3, a result that mirrors previously observed in vivo transduction profiles of brain vasculature. Studies in vitro revealed that the glycosaminoglycan, chondroitin sulfate C, acts as the primary receptor for AAV-GMN. Unlike AAV2, chondroitin sulfate expression is required for cell transduction by AAV-GMN, and soluble chondroitin sulfate C can robustly inhibit AAV-GMN transduction of brain endothelial cells. Interestingly, AAV-GMN retains heparin-binding properties, though in contrast to AAV2, it poorly transduces cells that express heparan sulfate but not chondroitin sulfate, indicating that the peptide insertion negatively impacts heparan-mediated transduction. Lastly, when delivered directly, this modified virus can transduce multiple brain regions, indicating that the potential of AAV-GMN as a therapeutic gene delivery vector for central nervous system disorders is not restricted to brain vascular endothelium.
PMCID: PMC4217075  PMID: 25313621
AAV; brain vasculature; capsid engineering; chondroitin sulfate; endothelium; phage display; receptor
8.  Clonal Dominance With Retroviral Vector Insertions Near the ANGPT1 and ANGPT2 Genes in a Human Xenotransplant Mouse Model 
Insertional leukemogenesis represents the major risk factor of hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) based gene therapy utilizing integrating viral vectors. To develop a pre-clinical model for the evaluation of vector-related genotoxicity directly in the relevant human target cells, cord blood CD34+ HSCs were transplanted into immunodeficient NOD.SCID.IL2rg−/− (NSG) mice after transduction with an LTR-driven gammaretroviral vector (GV). Furthermore, we specifically investigated the effect of prolonged in vitro culture in the presence of cytokines recently described to promote HSC expansion or maintenance. Clonality of human hematopoiesis in NSG mice was assessed by high throughput insertion site analyses and validated by insertion site-specific PCR depicting a GV typical integration profile with insertion sites resembling to 25% those of clinical studies. No overrepresentation of integrations in the vicinity of cancer-related genes was observed, however, several dominant clones were identified including two clones harboring integrations in the ANGPT1 and near the ANGPT2 genes associated with deregulated ANGPT1- and ANGPT2-mRNA levels. While these data underscore the potential value of the NSG model, our studies also identified short-comings such as overall low numbers of engrafted HSCs, limited in vivo observation time, and the challenges of in-depth insertion site analyses by low contribution of gene modified hematopoiesis.
PMCID: PMC4217076  PMID: 25291142
clonal dominance; insertional mutagenesis; murine xenotransplant model; retroviral vector
10.  The Varied Roles of Nuclear Argonaute-Small RNA Complexes and Avenues for Therapy 
Argonautes are highly conserved proteins found in almost all eukaryotes and some bacteria and archaea. In humans, there are eight argonaute proteins evenly distributed across two clades, the Ago clade (AGO1-4) and the Piwi clade (PIWIL1-4). The function of Ago proteins is best characterized by their role in RNA interference (RNAi) and cytoplasmic post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) – which involves the loading of siRNA or miRNA into argonaute to direct silencing of genes at the posttranscriptional or translational level. However, nuclear-localized, as opposed to cytoplasmic, argonaute-small RNA complexes may also orchestrate the mechanistically very different process of transcriptional gene silencing, which results in prevention of transcription from a gene locus by the formation of silent chromatin domains. More recently, the role of argonaute in other aspects of epigenetic regulation of chromatin, alternative splicing and DNA repair is emerging. This review focuses on the activity of nuclear-localized short RNA-argonaute complexes in a mammalian setting and discusses recent in vivo studies employing nuclear-directed sRNA for therapeutic interventions. These studies heed the potential development of RNA-based drugs which induce epigenetic changes in the cell.
PMCID: PMC4217078  PMID: 25313622
Ago; argonaute; microRNA; miRNA; nuclear; RNAa; siRNA; TGS; therapy
12.  Mcam Silencing With RNA Interference Using Magnetofection has Antitumor Effect in Murine Melanoma 
The melanoma cell adhesion molecule (MCAM) is involved in melanoma development and its progression, including invasiveness, metastatic potential and angiogenesis. Therefore, MCAM represents a potential target for gene therapy of melanoma, whose expression could be hindered with posttranscriptional specific gene silencing with RNA interference technology. In this study, we constructed a plasmid DNA encoding short hairpin RNA against MCAM (pMCAM) to explore the antitumor and antiangiogenic effects. The experiments were performed in vitro on murine melanoma and endothelial cells, as well as in vivo on melanoma tumors in mice. The antiproliferative, antimigratory, antiangiogenic and antitumor effects were examined after gene therapy with pMCAM. Gene delivery was performed by magnetofection, and its efficacy compared to gene electrotransfer. Gene therapy with pMCAM has proved to be an effective approach in reducing the proliferation and migration of melanoma cells, as well as having antiangiogenic effect in endothelial cells and antitumor effect on melanoma tumors. Magnetofection as a developing nonviral gene delivery system was effective in the transfection of melanoma cells and tumors with pMCAM, but less efficient than gene electrotransfer in in vivo tumor gene therapy due to the lack of antiangiogenic effect after silencing Mcam by magnetofection.
PMCID: PMC4217080  PMID: 25350580
13.  Antisense Oligonucleotide-mediated Suppression of Muscle Glycogen Synthase 1 Synthesis as an Approach for Substrate Reduction Therapy of Pompe Disease 
Pompe disease is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by a deficiency of acid α-glucosidase (GAA; EC and the resultant progressive lysosomal accumulation of glycogen in skeletal and cardiac muscles. Enzyme replacement therapy using recombinant human GAA (rhGAA) has proven beneficial in addressing several aspects of the disease such as cardiomyopathy and aberrant motor function. However, residual muscle weakness, hearing loss, and the risks of arrhythmias and osteopenia persist despite enzyme therapy. Here, we evaluated the relative merits of substrate reduction therapy (by inhibiting glycogen synthesis) as a potential adjuvant strategy. A phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotide (PMO) designed to invoke exon skipping and premature stop codon usage in the transcript for muscle specific glycogen synthase (Gys1) was identified and conjugated to a cell penetrating peptide (GS-PPMO) to facilitate PMO delivery to muscle. GS-PPMO systemic administration to Pompe mice led to a dose-dependent decrease in glycogen synthase transcripts in the quadriceps, and the diaphragm but not the liver. An mRNA response in the heart was seen only at the higher dose tested. Associated with these decreases in transcript levels were correspondingly lower tissue levels of muscle specific glycogen synthase and activity. Importantly, these reductions resulted in significant decreases in the aberrant accumulation of lysosomal glycogen in the quadriceps, diaphragm, and heart of Pompe mice. Treatment was without any overt toxicity, supporting the notion that substrate reduction by GS-PPMO-mediated inhibition of muscle specific glycogen synthase represents a viable therapeutic strategy for Pompe disease after further development.
PMCID: PMC4217081  PMID: 25350581
antisense oligonucleotide; cell penetrating peptide; glycogen synthase; morpholino; nonsense-mediated decay; Pompe disease; phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotide; skeletal muscle; substrate reduction therapy
14.  Optimization of Critical Hairpin Features Allows miRNA-based Gene Knockdown Upon Single-copy Transduction 
Gene knockdown using micro RNA (miRNA)-based vector constructs is likely to become a prominent gene therapy approach. It was the aim of this study to improve the efficiency of gene knockdown through optimizing the structure of miRNA mimics. Knockdown of two target genes was analyzed: CCR5 and green fluorescent protein. We describe here a novel and optimized miRNA mimic design called mirGE comprising a lower stem length of 13 base pairs (bp), positioning of the targeting strand on the 5′ side of the miRNA, together with nucleotide mismatches in upper stem positions 1 and 12 placed on the passenger strand. Our mirGE proved superior to miR-30 in four aspects: yield of targeting strand incorporation into RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC); incorporation into RISC of correct targeting strand; precision of cleavage by Drosha; and ratio of targeting strand over passenger strand. A triple mirGE hairpin cassette targeting CCR5 was constructed. It allowed CCR5 knockdown with an efficiency of over 90% upon single-copy transduction. Importantly, single-copy expression of this construct rendered transduced target cells, including primary human macrophages, resistant to infection with a CCR5-tropic strain of HIV. Our results provide new insights for a better knockdown efficiency of constructs containing miRNA. Our results also provide the proof-of-principle that cells can be rendered HIV resistant through single-copy vector transduction, rendering this approach more compatible with clinical applications.
PMCID: PMC4217082  PMID: 25350582
15.  RPN2 Gene Confers Osteosarcoma Cell Malignant Phenotypes and Determines Clinical Prognosis 
Drug resistance and metastasis are lethal characteristics of tumors. We previously demonstrated that silencing of ribophorin II (RPN2), which is part of the N-oligosaccharyl transferase complex, efficiently induced apoptosis and reduced resistance to docetaxel in human breast cancer cells. Here, we report the clinical and functional correlations of RPN2 expression in osteosarcoma. Immunohistochemical evaluation of 35 osteosarcoma patient biopsies revealed that RPN2 was moderately to highly expressed in all specimens, and higher RPN2 mRNA expression was significantly correlated with poor prognosis. To investigate whether lethal phenotypes of osteosarcoma could be reduced by regulating the expression of RPN2, we conducted a study of RNAi-induced RPN2 knockdown in highly metastatic human osteosarcoma cells. The results indicated that RPN2 silencing reduced cell proliferation, sphere formation, cell invasion, and sensitized drug response in vitro. Mice bearing RPN2-silenced highly metastatic osteosarcoma xenografts showed reduced tumor growth and lung metastasis, and survived longer than mice bearing control tumor xenografts. Taken together, our data suggest that RPN2 silencing contributes to regulation of lethal osteosarcoma phenotypes and could be a novel target for RNAi-based therapeutics against osteosarcoma.
PMCID: PMC4222647  PMID: 25181275
drug response; metastasis; osteosarcoma; ribophorin II (RPN2); RNA interference
16.  Probabilistic Bidirectional Promoter Switches: Noncoding RNA Takes Control 
The discovery of probabilistic promoter switches in genes that code for class I major histocompatibility complex receptors in mouse and human provides a useful paradigm to explain programmed cell fate decisions. These switches have preset probabilities of transcribing in either the sense or antisense direction, and the characteristics of individual switches are programmed by the relative affinity of competing transcription factor–binding sites. The noncoding RNAs produced from these switches can either activate or suppress gene transcription, based on their location relative to the promoter responsible for gene expression in mature cells. The switches are active in a developmental phase that precedes gene expression by mature cells, thus temporally separating the stochastic events that determine gene activation from the protein expression phase. This allows the probabilistic generation of variegated gene expression in the absence of selection and ensures that mature cells have stable expression of the genes. Programmed probabilistic switches may control cell fate decisions in many developmental systems, and therefore, it is important to investigate noncoding RNAs expressed by progenitor cells to determine if they are expressed in a stochastic manner at the single cell level. This review provides a summary of current knowledge regarding murine and human switches, followed by speculation on the possible involvement of probabilistic switches in other systems of programmed differentiation.
PMCID: PMC4222648  PMID: 25181276
KIR; Ly49; NK cells; transcription
17.  Myelin Basic Protein and a Multiple Sclerosis-related MBP-peptide Bind to Oligonucleotides 
Aptamer ligands for myelin basic protein (MBP) were obtained using the systematic evolution of ligand by exponential enrichment (SELEX) method. Two clones were isolated from a pool of oligonucleotides and tested for MBP targeting. Using purified MBP, we demonstrated the binding activity of the aptamers and we also showed the affinity of MBP for oligonucleotides of specific length. Moreover, one selected aptamer competitively inhibited the binding of an MBP-specific antibody to MBP and the aptamer was found more sensitive than a commercial antibody. In addition, we showed the ability of the aptamer to detect myelin-rich regions in paraffin-embedded mouse brain tissue. Therefore, the MBP-binding activity of the selected oligonucleotide may prove useful as a tool for life science and medical research for myelin detection and might be a good lead for testing it in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
PMCID: PMC4222649  PMID: 25202925
aptamers; histochemistry; multiple sclerosis; myelin basic protein
18.  A Sensitive Assay System To Test Antisense Oligonucleotides for Splice Suppression Therapy in the Mouse Liver 
We have previously demonstrated the efficacy of antisense therapy for splicing defects in cellular models of metabolic diseases, suppressing the use of cryptic splice sites or pseudoexon insertions. To date, no animal models with these defects are available. Here, we propose exon skipping of the phenylalanine hydroxylase (Pah) gene expressed in liver and kidney to generate systemic hyperphenylalaninemia in mice as a sensitive in vivo assay to test splice suppression. Systemic elevation of blood L-Phe can be quantified using tandem MS/MS. Exon 11 and/or 12 skipping for the normal PAH gene was validated in hepatoma cells for comparing two oligonucleotide chemistries, morpholinos and locked nucleic acids. Subsequently, Vivo-morpholinos (VMO) were tested in wild-type and in phenotypically normal Pahenu2/+ heterozygous mice to target exon 11 and/or 12 of the murine Pah gene using different VMO dosing, mode of injection and treatment regimes. Consecutive intravenous injections of VMO resulted in transient hyperphenylalaninemia correlating with complete exon skipping and absence of PAH protein and enzyme activity. Sustained effect required repeated injection of VMOs. Our results provide not only a sensitive in vivo assay to test for splice-modulating antisense oligonucleotides, but also a simple method to generate murine models for genetic liver diseases.
PMCID: PMC4222650  PMID: 25226162
animal models; antisense oligonucleotides; exon skipping; hyperphenylalaninemia; metabolic diseases; splicing suppression; vivo-morpholino
19.  Therapeutic Aptamers March On 
PMCID: PMC4222651  PMID: 25226163
20.  Mir-34: A New Weapon Against Cancer? 
The microRNA(miRNA)-34a is a key regulator of tumor suppression. It controls the expression of a plethora of target proteins involved in cell cycle, differentiation and apoptosis, and antagonizes processes that are necessary for basic cancer cell viability as well as cancer stemness, metastasis, and chemoresistance. In this review, we focus on the molecular mechanisms of miR-34a-mediated tumor suppression, giving emphasis on the main miR-34a targets, as well as on the principal regulators involved in the modulation of this miRNA. Moreover, we shed light on the miR-34a role in modulating responsiveness to chemotherapy and on the phytonutrients-mediated regulation of miR-34a expression and activity in cancer cells. Given the broad anti-oncogenic activity of miR-34a, we also discuss the substantial benefits of a new therapeutic concept based on nanotechnology delivery of miRNA mimics. In fact, the replacement of oncosuppressor miRNAs provides an effective strategy against tumor heterogeneity and the selective RNA-based delivery systems seems to be an excellent platform for a safe and effective targeting of the tumor.
PMCID: PMC4222652  PMID: 25247240
apoptosis; cancer; cell cycle; delivery; DNA damage; microRNA; miR-34a; multiple myeloma; nanotechnology; p53
21.  CCR5 Gene Editing of Resting CD4+ T Cells by Transient ZFN Expression From HIV Envelope Pseudotyped Nonintegrating Lentivirus Confers HIV-1 Resistance in Humanized Mice 
CCR5 disruption by zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) is a promising method for HIV-1 gene therapy. However, successful clinical translation of this strategy necessitates the development of a safe and effective method for delivery into relevant cells. We used non-integrating lentivirus (NILV) for transient expression of ZFNs and pseudotyped the virus with HIV-envelope for targeted delivery to CD4+ T cells. Both activated and resting primary CD4+ T cells transduced with CCR5-ZFNs NILV showed resistance to HIV-1 infection in vitro. Furthermore, NILV transduced resting CD4+ T cells from HIV-1 seronegative individuals were resistant to HIV-1 challenge when reconstituted into NOD-scid IL2rγc null (NSG) mice. Likewise, endogenous virus replication was suppressed in NSG mice reconstituted with CCR5-ZFN–transduced resting CD4+ T cells from treatment naïve as well as ART-treated HIV-1 seropositive patients. Taken together, NILV pseudotyped with HIV envelope provides a simple and clinically viable strategy for HIV-1 gene therapy.
PMCID: PMC4222653  PMID: 25268698
CCR5 gene editing; HIV-1 therapy; humanized mice; non-integrating lentivirus; resting CD4+ T cells; zinc finger nucleases
22.  Oligonucleotide Aptamers: New Tools for Targeted Cancer Therapy 
Aptamers are a class of small nucleic acid ligands that are composed of RNA or single-stranded DNA oligonucleotides and have high specificity and affinity for their targets. Similar to antibodies, aptamers interact with their targets by recognizing a specific three-dimensional structure and are thus termed “chemical antibodies.” In contrast to protein antibodies, aptamers offer unique chemical and biological characteristics based on their oligonucleotide properties. Hence, they are more suitable for the development of novel clinical applications. Aptamer technology has been widely investigated in various biomedical fields for biomarker discovery, in vitro diagnosis, in vivo imaging, and targeted therapy. This review will discuss the potential applications of aptamer technology as a new tool for targeted cancer therapy with emphasis on the development of aptamers that are able to specifically target cell surface biomarkers. Additionally, we will describe several approaches for the use of aptamers in targeted therapeutics, including aptamer-drug conjugation, aptamer-nanoparticle conjugation, aptamer-mediated targeted gene therapy, aptamer-mediated immunotherapy, and aptamer-mediated biotherapy.
PMCID: PMC4221593  PMID: 25093706
cell surface biomarker; nanomedicine; oligonucleotide aptamer; SELEX; targeted cancer therapy
23.  New Technologies Provide Quantum Changes in the Scale, Speed, and Success of SELEX Methods and Aptamer Characterization 
Single-stranded oligonucleotide aptamers have attracted great attention in the past decade because of their diagnostic and therapeutic potential. These versatile, high affinity and specificity reagents are selected by an iterative in vitro process called SELEX, Systematic Evolution of Ligands by Exponential Enrichment. Numerous SELEX methods have been developed for aptamer selections; some that are simple and straightforward, and some that are specialized and complicated. The method of SELEX is crucial for selection of an aptamer with desired properties; however, success also depends on the starting aptamer library, the target molecule, aptamer enrichment monitoring assays, and finally, the analysis and characterization of selected aptamers. Here, we summarize key recent developments in aptamer selection methods, as well as other aspects of aptamer selection that have significant impact on the outcome. We discuss potential pitfalls and limitations in the selection process with an eye to aid researchers in the choice of a proper SELEX strategy, and we highlight areas where further developments and improvements are desired. We believe carefully designed multiplexed selection methods, when complemented with high-throughput downstream analysis and characterization assays, will yield numerous high-affinity aptamers to protein and small molecule targets, and thereby generate a vast array of reagents for probing basic biological mechanisms and implementing new diagnostic and therapeutic applications in the near future.
PMCID: PMC4221594  PMID: 25093707
24.  A Cancer Cell-Activatable Aptamer-Reporter System for One-Step Assay of Circulating Tumor Cells 
The current antibody-mediated numeration assays of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) require multiple steps and are time-consuming. To overcome these technical limitations, a cancer cell-activatable aptamer-reporter was formulated by conjugating a biomarker-specific aptamer sequence with paired fluorochrome-quencher molecules. In contrast to the antibody probes, the intact aptamer-reporter was optically silent in the absence of cells of interest. However, when used in an assay, the aptamer selectively targeted cancer cells through interaction with a specific surface biomarker, which triggered internalization of the aptamer-reporter and, subsequently, into cell lysosomes. Rapid lysosomal degradation of the aptamer-reporter resulted in separation of the paired fluorochrome-quencher molecules. The released fluorochrome emitted bright fluorescent signals exclusively within the targeted cancer cells, with no background noise in the assay. Thus, the assays could be completed in a single step within minutes. By using this one-step assay, CTCs in whole blood and marrow aspirate samples of patients with lymphoma tumors were selectively highlighted and rapidly detected with no off-target signals from background blood cells. The development of the cancer cell-activatable aptamer-reporter system allows for the possibility of a simple and robust point-of-care test for CTC detection, which is currently unavailable.
PMCID: PMC4221596  PMID: 25118170
aptamer-reporter; cell-activatable; circulating tumor cell detection
25.  Hybrid Nanomaterial Complexes for Advanced Phage-guided Gene Delivery 
Developing nanomaterials that are effective, safe, and selective for gene transfer applications is challenging. Bacteriophages (phage), viruses that infect bacteria only, have shown promise for targeted gene transfer applications. Unfortunately, limited progress has been achieved in improving their potential to overcome mammalian cellular barriers. We hypothesized that chemical modification of the bacteriophage capsid could be applied to improve targeted gene delivery by phage vectors into mammalian cells. Here, we introduce a novel hybrid system consisting of two classes of nanomaterial systems, cationic polymers and M13 bacteriophage virus particles genetically engineered to display a tumor-targeting ligand and carry a transgene cassette. We demonstrate that the phage complex with cationic polymers generates positively charged phage and large aggregates that show enhanced cell surface attachment, buffering capacity, and improved transgene expression while retaining cell type specificity. Moreover, phage/polymer complexes carrying a therapeutic gene achieve greater cancer cell killing than phage alone. This new class of hybrid nanomaterial platform can advance targeted gene delivery applications by bacteriophage.
PMCID: PMC4221597  PMID: 25118171
bacteriophage; biomaterials; cancer; cationic polymers; targeted gene transfer; viral particles

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