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1.  Generation and Characterization of a Transgenic Mouse Carrying a Functional Human β-Globin Gene with the IVSI-6 Thalassemia Mutation 
BioMed Research International  2015;2015:687635.
Mouse models that carry mutations causing thalassemia represent a suitable tool to test in vivo new mutation-specific therapeutic approaches. Transgenic mice carrying the β-globin IVSI-6 mutation (the most frequent in Middle-Eastern regions and recurrent in Italy and Greece) are, at present, not available. We report the production and characterization of a transgenic mouse line (TG-β-IVSI-6) carrying the IVSI-6 thalassemia point mutation within the human β-globin gene. In the TG-β-IVSI-6 mouse (a) the transgenic integration region is located in mouse chromosome 7; (b) the expression of the transgene is tissue specific; (c) as expected, normally spliced human β-globin mRNA is produced, giving rise to β-globin production and formation of a human-mouse tetrameric chimeric hemoglobin muα-globin2/huβ-globin2 and, more importantly, (d) the aberrant β-globin-IVSI-6 RNAs are present in blood cells. The TG-β-IVSI-6 mouse reproduces the molecular features of IVSI-6 β-thalassemia and might be used as an in vivo model to characterize the effects of antisense oligodeoxynucleotides targeting the cryptic sites responsible for the generation of aberrantly spliced β-globin RNA sequences, caused by the IVSI-6 mutation. These experiments are expected to be crucial for the development of a personalized therapy for β-thalassemia.
PMCID: PMC4434229  PMID: 26097845
2.  A New Microarray Substrate for Ultra-Sensitive Genotyping of KRAS and BRAF Gene Variants in Colorectal Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e59939.
Molecular diagnostics of human cancers may increase accuracy in prognosis, facilitate the selection of the optimal therapeutic regimen, improve patient outcome, reduce costs of treatment and favour development of personalized approaches to patient care. Moreover sensitivity and specificity are fundamental characteristics of any diagnostic method. We developed a highly sensitive microarray for the detection of common KRAS and BRAF oncogenic mutations. In colorectal cancer, KRAS and BRAF mutations have been shown to identify a cluster of patients that does not respond to anti-EGFR therapies; the identification of these mutations is therefore clinically extremely important. To verify the technical characteristics of the microarray system for the correct identification of the KRAS mutational status at the two hotspot codons 12 and 13 and of the BRAFV600E mutation in colorectal tumor, we selected 75 samples previously characterized by conventional and CO-amplification at Lower Denaturation temperature-PCR (COLD-PCR) followed by High Resolution Melting analysis and direct sequencing. Among these samples, 60 were collected during surgery and immediately steeped in RNAlater while the 15 remainders were formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues. The detection limit of the proposed method was different for the 7 KRAS mutations tested and for the V600E BRAF mutation. In particular, the microarray system has been able to detect a minimum of about 0.01% of mutated alleles in a background of wild-type DNA. A blind validation displayed complete concordance of results. The excellent agreement of the results showed that the new microarray substrate is highly specific in assigning the correct genotype without any enrichment strategy.
PMCID: PMC3607556  PMID: 23536897
3.  Effects of decoy molecules targeting NF-kappaB transcription factors in Cystic fibrosis IB3–1 cells 
Artificial DNA, PNA & XNA  2012;3(2):97-296.
One of the clinical features of cystic fibrosis (CF) is a deep inflammatory process, which is characterized by production and release of cytokines and chemokines, among which interleukin 8 (IL-8) represents one of the most important. Accordingly, there is a growing interest in developing therapies against CF to reduce the excessive inflammatory response in the airways of CF patients. Since transcription factor NF-kappaB plays a critical role in IL-8 expression, the transcription factor decoy (TFD) strategy might be of interest. In order to demonstrate that TFD against NF-kappaB interferes with the NF-kappaB pathway we proved, by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) that treatment with TFD oligodeoxyribonucleotides of cystic fibrosis IB3–1 cells infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa leads to a decrease occupancy of the Il-8 gene promoter by NF-kappaB factors. In order to develop more stable therapeutic molecules, peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) based agents were considered. In this respect PNA-DNA-PNA (PDP) chimeras are molecules of great interest from several points of view: (1) they can be complexed with liposomes and microspheres; (2) they are resistant to DNases, serum and cytoplasmic extracts; (3) they are potent decoy molecules. By using electrophoretic mobility shift assay and RT-PCR analysis we have demonstrated that (1) the effects of PDP/PDP NF-kappaB decoy chimera on accumulation of pro-inflammatory mRNAs in P.aeruginosa infected IB3–1 cells reproduce that of decoy oligonucleotides; in particular (2) the PDP/PDP chimera is a strong inhibitor of IL-8 gene expression; (3) the effect of PDP/PDP chimeras, unlike those of ODN-based decoys, are observed even in the absence of protection with lipofectamine. These informations are of great impact, in our opinion, for the development of stable molecules to be used in non-viral gene therapy of cystic fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3429536  PMID: 22772035
NF-kappaB; transcription factor decoy; inflammation; Peptide Nucleic Acids; PNA-DNA chimeras
4.  A preclinical approach for gene therapy of β-thalassemia 
Lentiviral-mediated β-globin gene transfer successfully treated β-thalassemic mice. Based on this result, clinical trials were initiated. To date, however, no study has investigated the efficacy of gene therapy in relation to the nature of the different β-globin mutations found in patients. Most mutations can be classified as β0 or β+, based on the amount of β-globin protein produced. Therefore, we propose that a screening in vitro is necessary to verify the efficacy of gene transfer prior to treatment of individual patients. We used a two-phase liquid culture system to expand and differentiate erythroid progenitor cells (ErPCs) transduced with lentiviral vectors. We propose the use of this system to test the efficiency of lentiviral vectors carrying the human β-globin gene, to correct the phenotype of ErPCs from patients preparing for gene therapy. This new approach might have profound implications for designing gene therapy and for understanding the genotype/phenotype variability observed in Cooley’s anemia patients.
PMCID: PMC3068625  PMID: 20712784
β-thalassemia; β-globin; gene therapy; lentiviral vectors; hemoglobin; erythroid progenitor cells
5.  Bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso) fruit extracts and identified components alter expression of interleukin 8 gene in cystic fibrosis bronchial epithelial cell lines 
BMC Biochemistry  2011;12:15.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) airway pathology is a fatal, autosomal, recessive genetic disease characterized by extensive lung inflammation. After induction by TNF-α, elevated concentrations of several pro-inflammatory cytokines (i.e. IL-6, IL-1β) and chemokines (i.e. IL-8) are released from airway epithelial cells. In order to reduce the excessive inflammatory response in the airways of CF patients, new therapies have been developed and in this respect, medicinal plant extracts have been studied. In this article we have investigated the possible use of bergamot extracts (Citrus bergamia Risso) and their identified components to alter the expression of IL-8 associated with the cystic fibrosis airway pathology.
The extracts were chemically characterized by 1H-NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), GC-FID (gas chromatography-flame ionization detector), GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) and HPLC (high pressure liquid chromatography). Both bergamot extracts and main detected chemical constituents were assayed for their biological activity measuring (a) cytokines and chemokines in culture supernatants released from cystic fibrosis IB3-1 cells treated with TNF-α by Bio-Plex cytokine assay; (b) accumulation of IL-8 mRNA by real-time PCR.
The extracts obtained from bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso) epicarps contain components displaying an inhibitory activity on IL-8. Particularly, the most active molecules were bergapten and citropten. These effects have been confirmed by analyzing mRNA levels and protein release in the CF cellular models IB3-1 and CuFi-1 induced with TNF-α or exposed to heat-inactivated Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
These obtained results clearly indicate that bergapten and citropten are strong inhibitors of IL-8 expression and could be proposed for further studies to verify possible anti-inflammatory properties to reduce lung inflammation in CF patients.
PMCID: PMC3095539  PMID: 21496221
6.  Docking of molecules identified in bioactive medicinal plants extracts into the p50 NF-kappaB transcription factor: correlation with inhibition of NF-kappaB/DNA interactions and inhibitory effects on IL-8 gene expression 
The transcription factor NF-kappaB is a very interesting target molecule for the design on anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and pro-apoptotic drugs. However, the application of the widely-used molecular docking computational method for the virtual screening of chemical libraries on NF-kappaB is not yet reported in literature. Docking studies on a dataset of 27 molecules from extracts of two different medicinal plants to NF-kappaB-p50 were performed with the purpose of developing a docking protocol fit for the target under study.
We enhanced the simple docking procedure by means of a sort of combined target- and ligand-based drug design approach. Advantages of this combination strategy, based on a similarity parameter for the identification of weak binding chemical entities, are illustrated in this work with the discovery of a new lead compound for NF-kappaB. Further biochemical analyses based on EMSA were performed and biological effects were tested on the compound exhibiting the best docking score. All experimental analysis were in fairly good agreement with molecular modeling findings.
The results obtained sustain the concept that the docking performance is predictive of a biochemical activity. In this respect, this paper represents the first example of successfully individuation through molecular docking simulations of a promising lead compound for the inhibition of NF-kappaB-p50 biological activity and modulation of the expression of the NF-kB regulated IL8 gene.
PMCID: PMC2543017  PMID: 18768082

Results 1-6 (6)