A study was undertaken to resolve preliminary conflicting results on the proliferation of leukemia cells observed with different c-myc antisense oligonucleotides.
RNase H-active, chimeric methylphosphonodiester / phosphodiester antisense oligodeoxynucleotides targeting bases 1147–1166 of c-myc mRNA downregulated c-Myc protein and induced apoptosis and cell cycle arrest respectively in cultures of MOLT-4 and KYO1 human leukemia cells. In contrast, an RNase H-inactive, morpholino antisense oligonucleotide analogue 28-mer, simultaneously targeting the exon 2 splice acceptor site and initiation codon, reduced c-Myc protein to barely detectable levels but did not affect cell proliferation in these or other leukemia lines. The RNase H-active oligodeoxynucleotide 20-mers contained the phosphodiester linked motif CGTTG, which as an apoptosis inducing CpG oligodeoxynucleotide 5-mer of sequence type CGNNN (N = A, G, C, or T) had potent activity against MOLT-4 cells. The 5-mer mimicked the antiproliferative effects of the 20-mer in the absence of any antisense activity against c-myc mRNA, while the latter still reduced expression of c-myc in a subline of MOLT-4 cells that had been selected for resistance to CGTTA, but in this case the oligodeoxynucleotide failed to induce apoptosis or cell cycle arrest.
We conclude that the biological activity of the chimeric c-myc antisense 20-mers resulted from a non-antisense mechanism related to the CGTTG motif contained within the sequence, and not through downregulation of c-myc. Although the oncogene may have been implicated in the etiology of the original leukemias, expression of c-myc is apparently no longer required to sustain continuous cell proliferation in these culture lines.