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1.  Self-duplexing CUG repeats selectively inhibit mutant huntingtin expression 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(22):10426-10437.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder caused by the expansion of the CAG repeat in the translated sequence of the HTT gene. This expansion generates a mutant huntingtin protein that contains an abnormally elongated polyglutamine tract, which, together with mutant transcript, causes cellular dysfunction. Currently, there is no curative treatment available to patients suffering from HD; however, the selective inhibition of the mutant allele expression is a promising therapeutic option. In this study, we developed a new class of CAG repeat-targeting silencing reagents that consist of self-duplexing CUG repeats. Self-duplex formation was induced through one or several U-base substitutions. A number of self-duplexing guide-strand-only short interfering RNAs have been tested through transfection into cells derived from HD patients, showing distinct activity profiles. The best reagents were highly discriminatory between the normal and mutant HTT alleles (allele selectivity) and the HTT transcript and other transcripts containing shorter CAG repeats (gene selectivity). We also demonstrated that the self-duplexing CUG repeat short interfering RNAs use the RNA interference pathway to elicit silencing, and repeat-targeting reagents showed similar activity and selectivity when expressed from short hairpin RNA vectors to achieve more durable silencing effects.
PMCID: PMC3905887  PMID: 24038471
2.  An evaluation of oligonucleotide-based therapeutic strategies for polyQ diseases 
RNA interference (RNAi) and antisense strategies provide experimental therapeutic agents for numerous diseases, including polyglutamine (polyQ) disorders caused by CAG repeat expansion. We compared the potential of different oligonucleotide-based strategies for silencing the genes responsible for several polyQ diseases, including Huntington's disease and two spinocerebellar ataxias, type 1 and type 3. The strategies included nonallele-selective gene silencing, gene replacement, allele-selective SNP targeting and CAG repeat targeting.
Using the patient-derived cell culture models of polyQ diseases, we tested various siRNAs, and antisense reagents and assessed their silencing efficiency and allele selectivity. We showed considerable allele discrimination by several SNP targeting siRNAs based on a weak G-G or G-U pairing with normal allele and strong G-C pairing with mutant allele at the site of RISC-induced cleavage. Among the CAG repeat targeting reagents the strongest allele discrimination is achieved by miRNA-like functioning reagents that bind to their targets and inhibit their translation without substantial target cleavage. Also, morpholino analog performs well in mutant and normal allele discrimination but its efficient delivery to cells at low effective concentration still remains a challenge.
Using three cellular models of polyQ diseases and the same experimental setup we directly compared the performance of different oligonucleotide-based treatment strategies that are currently under development. Based on the results obtained by us and others we discussed the advantages and drawbacks of these strategies considering them from several different perspectives. The strategy aimed at nonallele-selective inhibiting of causative gene expression by targeting specific sequence of the implicated gene is the easiest to implement but relevant benefits are still uncertain. The gene replacement strategy that combines the nonallele-selective gene silencing with the expression of the exogenous normal allele is a logical extension of the former and it deserves to be explored further. Both allele-selective RNAi approaches challenge cellular RNA interference machinery to show its ability to discriminate between similar sequences differing in either single base substitutions or repeated sequence length. Although both approaches perform well in allele discrimination most of our efforts are focused on repeat targeting due to its potentially higher universality.
PMCID: PMC3359213  PMID: 22397573
Triplet repeats; Polyglutamine diseases; siRNA; Antisense oligonucleotides; SNP targeting; CAG repeat targeting
3.  Triplet repeat RNA structure and its role as pathogenic agent and therapeutic target 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(1):11-26.
This review presents detailed information about the structure of triplet repeat RNA and addresses the simple sequence repeats of normal and expanded lengths in the context of the physiological and pathogenic roles played in human cells. First, we discuss the occurrence and frequency of various trinucleotide repeats in transcripts and classify them according to the propensity to form RNA structures of different architectures and stabilities. We show that repeats capable of forming hairpin structures are overrepresented in exons, which implies that they may have important functions. We further describe long triplet repeat RNA as a pathogenic agent by presenting human neurological diseases caused by triplet repeat expansions in which mutant RNA gains a toxic function. Prominent examples of these diseases include myotonic dystrophy type 1 and fragile X-associated tremor ataxia syndrome, which are triggered by mutant CUG and CGG repeats, respectively. In addition, we discuss RNA-mediated pathogenesis in polyglutamine disorders such as Huntington's disease and spinocerebellar ataxia type 3, in which expanded CAG repeats may act as an auxiliary toxic agent. Finally, triplet repeat RNA is presented as a therapeutic target. We describe various concepts and approaches aimed at the selective inhibition of mutant transcript activity in experimental therapies developed for repeat-associated diseases.
PMCID: PMC3245940  PMID: 21908410
4.  CAG repeats mimic CUG repeats in the misregulation of alternative splicing 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(20):8938-8951.
Mutant transcripts containing expanded CUG repeats in the untranslated region are a pathogenic factor in myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1). The mutant RNA sequesters the muscleblind-like 1 (MBNL1) splicing factor and causes misregulation of the alternative splicing of multiple genes that are linked to clinical symptoms of the disease. In this study, we show that either long untranslated CAG repeat RNA or short synthetic CAG repeats induce splicing aberrations typical of DM1. Alternative splicing defects are also caused by translated CAG repeats in normal cells transfected with a mutant ATXN3 gene construct and in cells derived from spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 and Huntington's disease patients. Splicing misregulation is unlikely to be caused by traces of antisense transcripts with CUG repeats, and the possible trigger of this misregulation may be sequestration of the MBNL1 protein with nuclear RNA inclusions containing expanded CAG repeat transcripts. We propose that alternative splicing misregulation by mutant CAG repeats may contribute to the pathological features of polyglutamine disorders.
PMCID: PMC3203611  PMID: 21795378
5.  Inhibition of mutant huntingtin expression by RNA duplex targeting expanded CAG repeats 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(13):5578-5585.
The specific silencing of the gene of interest is the major objective of RNA interference technology; therefore, unique sequences but not abundant sequence repeats are targeted by silencing reagents. Here, we describe the targeting of expanded CAG repeats that occur in transcripts derived from the mutant allele of the gene implicated in Huntington’s disease (HD) in the presence of the normal allele and other human mRNAs containing CAG and CUG repeat tracts. We show that a high degree of silencing selectivity may be achieved between the repeated sequences. We demonstrate preferential suppression of the mutant huntingtin allele and concomitant activation of the normal huntingtin allele in cell lines derived from HD patients that were transfected with short RNA duplexes composed of CAG and CUG repeats containing mutations at specific positions. These effects may lead to promising therapeutic modalities for HD, a condition for which no therapy presently exists.
PMCID: PMC3141264  PMID: 21427085

Results 1-5 (5)