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1.  Synthetic oligonucleotides recruit ILF2/3 to RNA transcripts to modulate splicing 
Nature chemical biology  2012;8(6):555-561.
We describe a new technology for recruiting specific proteins to RNA through selective recognition of heteroduplexes formed with chemically modified antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs). Typically, ASOs function by hybridizing to their RNA targets and blocking the binding of single-stranded RNA–binding proteins. Unexpectedly, we found that ASOs with 2′-deoxy-2′-fluoro (2′-F) nucleotides, but not with other 2′ chemical modifications, have an additional property: they form heteroduplexes with RNA that are specifically recognized by the interleukin enhancer-binding factor 2 and 3 complex (ILF2/3). 2′-F ASO–directed recruitment of ILF2/3 to RNA can be harnessed to control gene expression by modulating alternative splicing of target transcripts. ILF2/3 recruitment to precursor mRNA near an exon results in omission of the exon from the mature mRNA, both in cell culture and in mice. We discuss the possibility of using chemically engineered ASOs that recruit specific proteins to modulate gene expression for therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC5021312  PMID: 22504300
2.  The gene encoding the splicing factor SF2/ASF is a proto-oncogene 
Alternative splicing modulates the expression of many oncogene and tumor-suppressor isoforms. We have tested whether some alternative splicing factors are involved in cancer. We found that the splicing factor SF2/ASF is upregulated in various human tumors, in part due to amplification of its gene, SFRS1. Moreover, slight overexpression of SF2/ASF is sufficient to transform immortal rodent fibroblasts, which form sarcomas in nude mice. We further show that SF2/ASF controls alternative splicing of the tumor suppressor BIN1 and the kinases MNK2 and S6K1. The resulting BIN1 isoforms lack tumor-suppressor activity; an isoform of MNK2 promotes MAP kinase–independent eIF4E phosphorylation; and an unusual oncogenic isoform of S6K1 recapitulates the transforming activity of SF2/ASF. Knockdown of either SF2/ASF or isoform-2 of S6K1 is sufficient to reverse transformation caused by the overexpression of SF2/ASF in vitro and in vivo. Thus, SF2/ASF can act as an oncoprotein and is a potential target for cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC4595851  PMID: 17310252
3.  HITS-CLIP and integrative modeling define the Rbfox splicing-regulatory network linked to brain development and autism 
Cell reports  2014;6(6):1139-1152.
The RNA-binding proteins Rbfox1/2/3 regulate alternative splicing in the nervous system, and disruption of Rbfox1 has been implicated in autism. However, comprehensive identification of functional Rbfox targets has been challenging. Here we performed HITS-CLIP for all three Rbfox family members to globally map, at a single-nucleotide resolution, their in vivo RNA interaction sites in the mouse brain. We found that the two guanines in the Rbfox-binding motif UGCAUG are critical for protein-RNA interactions and crosslinking. Using integrative modeling, these interaction sites combined with additional datasets defined 1,059 direct Rbfox target alternative splicing events. Over half of the quantifiable targets show dynamic changes during brain development. Of particular interest are 111 events from 48 candidate autism-susceptibility genes, including syndromic autism genes Shank3, Cacna1c, and Tsc2. Alteration of Rbfox targets in some autistic brains is correlated with down-regulation of all three Rbfox proteins, supporting the potential clinical relevance of the splicing- regulatory network.
PMCID: PMC3992522  PMID: 24613350
4.  Pathological impact of SMN2 mis-splicing in adult SMA mice 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2013;5(10):1586-1601.
Loss-of-function mutations in SMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a leading genetic cause of infant mortality. The related SMN2 gene expresses suboptimal levels of functional SMN protein, due to a splicing defect. Many SMA patients reach adulthood, and there is also adult-onset (type IV) SMA. There is currently no animal model for adult-onset SMA, and the tissue-specific pathogenesis of post-developmental SMN deficiency remains elusive. Here, we use an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) to exacerbate SMN2 mis-splicing. Intracerebroventricular ASO injection in adult SMN2-transgenic mice phenocopies key aspects of adult-onset SMA, including delayed-onset motor dysfunction and relevant histopathological features. SMN2 mis-splicing increases during late-stage disease, likely accelerating disease progression. Systemic ASO injection in adult mice causes peripheral SMN2 mis-splicing and affects prognosis, eliciting marked liver and heart pathologies, with decreased IGF1 levels. ASO dose–response and time-course studies suggest that only moderate SMN levels are required in the adult central nervous system, and treatment with a splicing-correcting ASO shows a broad therapeutic time window. We describe distinctive pathological features of adult-onset and early-onset SMA.
PMCID: PMC3799581  PMID: 24014320
adult-onset SMA; pathology; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy; splicing
5.  Antisense-mediated exon inclusion 
Exon skipping induced by gene mutations is a common mechanism responsible for many genetic diseases. A practical approach to correct the aberrant splicing of defective genes is to use antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs). The recognition of splice sites and the regulation of splicing involve multiple positive or negative cis-acting elements and trans-acting factors. Base-pairing of ASOs to a negative element in a targeted pre-mRNA blocks the binding of splicing repressors to this cis-element and/or disrupts an unfavorable secondary structure; as a result, the ASO restores exon inclusion. For example, we have recently shown that appropriate 2’-O-(2-methoxyethyl) (MOE) phosphorothioate-modified ASOs can efficiently correct survival motor neuron 2 (SMN2) exon 7 splicing in a cell-free splicing assay, in cultured human cells—including patient fibroblasts—and in both peripheral tissues and the CNS of SMA mouse models. These ASOs are promising drug leads for SMA therapy.
PMCID: PMC3390937  PMID: 22454070
Exon skipping; antisense oligonucleotide; MOE; splicing; SMN2; SMA; ESS; ISS; cis-acting element; in vitro splicing assay; minigene; exon 7 inclusion; RT-PCR; ICV; ICV infusion; mouse tissue; spinal cord; CNS
The splicing-factor oncoprotein SRSF1 (also known as SF2/ASF) is upregulated in breast cancers. We investigated SRSF1’s ability to transform human and mouse mammary epithelial cells in vivo and in vitro. SRSF1-overexpressing COMMA-1D cells formed tumors, following orthotopic transplantation to reconstitute the mammary gland. In 3-D culture, SRSF1-overexpressing MCF-10A cells formed larger acini than control cells, reflecting increased proliferation and delayed apoptosis during acinar morphogenesis. These effects required the first RNA-recognition motif and nuclear functions of SRSF1. SRSF1 overexpression promoted alternative splicing of BIM and BIN1 isoforms that lack pro-apoptotic functions and contribute to the phenotype. Finally, SRSF1 cooperated specifically with MYC to transform mammary epithelial cells, in part by potentiating eIF4E activation, and these cooperating oncogenes are significantly co-expressed in human breast tumors. Thus, SRSF1 can promote breast cancer, and SRSF1 itself or its downstream effectors may be valuable targets for therapeutics development.
PMCID: PMC3272117  PMID: 22245967
7.  A generalizable pre-clinical research approach for orphan disease therapy 
With the advent of next-generation DNA sequencing, the pace of inherited orphan disease gene identification has increased dramatically, a situation that will continue for at least the next several years. At present, the numbers of such identified disease genes significantly outstrips the number of laboratories available to investigate a given disorder, an asymmetry that will only increase over time. The hope for any genetic disorder is, where possible and in addition to accurate diagnostic test formulation, the development of therapeutic approaches. To this end, we propose here the development of a strategic toolbox and preclinical research pathway for inherited orphan disease. Taking much of what has been learned from rare genetic disease research over the past two decades, we propose generalizable methods utilizing transcriptomic, system-wide chemical biology datasets combined with chemical informatics and, where possible, repurposing of FDA approved drugs for pre-clinical orphan disease therapies. It is hoped that this approach may be of utility for the broader orphan disease research community and provide funding organizations and patient advocacy groups with suggestions for the optimal path forward. In addition to enabling academic pre-clinical research, strategies such as this may also aid in seeding startup companies, as well as further engaging the pharmaceutical industry in the treatment of rare genetic disease.
PMCID: PMC3458970  PMID: 22704758
Orphan disease therapy; Preclinical drug development; Generalizable screening methods; Translational toolbox
8.  Splicing therapeutics in SMN2 and APOB 
Splicing therapeutics are defined as the deliberate modification of RNA splicing to achieve therapeutic goals. Various techniques for splicing therapeutics have been described, and most of these involve the use of antisense oligonucleotide-based compounds that target key elements in the pre-mRNA to control splicing in the nucleus. In this review, recent developments in splicing therapeutics for the treatment of two specific diseases are described: correcting the alternative splicing of survival of motor neuron (SMN)2 pre-mRNA to compensate for the defective SMN1 gene in spinal muscular atrophy, and re-engineering the splicing of apolipoprotein B pre-mRNA to lower circulating cholesterol levels.
PMCID: PMC3140428  PMID: 19330716
Antisense oligonucleotide; APOB; apolipoprotein B; cholesterol; RNA splicing; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy
9.  Recognition of atypical 5' splice sites by shifted base-pairing to U1 snRNA 
Accurate pre-mRNA splicing is critical for gene expression. The 5' splice site (5' ss) — the highly diverse element at the 5' end of introns — is initially recognized via base-pairing to the 5' end of U1 small nuclear RNA (snRNA). However, many natural 5' ss have a very poor match to the consensus sequence, and are predicted to be very weak. Using genetic suppression experiments in human cells, we demonstrate that some atypical 5' ss are actually efficiently recognized by U1, in an alternative base-pairing register that is shifted by one nucleotide. These atypical 5' ss are phylogenetically widespread, and many of them are conserved. Moreover, shifted base-pairing provides an explanation for the effect of a 5' ss mutation associated with pontocerebellar hypoplasia. The unexpected flexibility in 5' ss/U1 base-pairing challenges an established paradigm, and has broad implications for splice-site prediction algorithms and gene-annotation efforts in genome projects.
PMCID: PMC2719486  PMID: 19169258
10.  Enhancement of SMN2 Exon 7 Inclusion by Antisense Oligonucleotides Targeting the Exon 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(4):e73.
Several strategies have been pursued to increase the extent of exon 7 inclusion during splicing of SMN2 (survival of motor neuron 2) transcripts, for eventual therapeutic use in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disease. Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that target an exon or its flanking splice sites usually promote exon skipping. Here we systematically tested a large number of ASOs with a 2′-O-methoxy-ethyl ribose (MOE) backbone that hybridize to different positions of SMN2 exon 7, and identified several that promote greater exon inclusion, others that promote exon skipping, and still others with complex effects on the accumulation of the two alternatively spliced products. This approach provides positional information about presumptive exonic elements or secondary structures with positive or negative effects on exon inclusion. The ASOs are effective not only in cell-free splicing assays, but also when transfected into cultured cells, where they affect splicing of endogenous SMN transcripts. The ASOs that promote exon 7 inclusion increase full-length SMN protein levels, demonstrating that they do not interfere with mRNA export or translation, despite hybridizing to an exon. Some of the ASOs we identified are sufficiently active to proceed with experiments in SMA mouse models.
Author Summary
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a severe genetic disease that causes motor-neuron degeneration. SMA patients lack a functional SMN1 (survival of motor neuron 1) gene, but they possess an intact SMN2 gene, which though nearly identical to SMN1, is only partially functional. The defect in SMN2 gene expression is at the level of pre-mRNA splicing (skipping of exon 7), and the presence of this gene in all SMA patients makes it an attractive target for potential therapy. Here we have surveyed a large number of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that are complementary to different regions of exon 7 in the SMN2 mRNA. A few of these ASOs are able to correct the pre-mRNA splicing defect, presumably because they bind to regions of exon 7 that form RNA structures, or provide protein-binding sites, that normally weaken the recognition of this exon by the splicing machinery in the cell nucleus. We describe optimal ASOs that promote correct expression of SMN2 mRNA and, therefore, normal SMN protein, in cultured cells from SMA patients. These ASOs can now be tested in mouse models of SMA, and may be useful for SMA therapy.
Mutations inSMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy; a nearly identical gene is not functional, but becomes functional in vitro and in vivo after addition of antisense oligos.
PMCID: PMC1820610  PMID: 17355180
11.  Antisense oligonucleotide-induced alternative splicing of the APOB mRNA generates a novel isoform of APOB 
Apolipoprotein B (APOB) is an integral part of the LDL, VLDL, IDL, Lp(a) and chylomicron lipoprotein particles. The APOB pre-mRNA consists of 29 constitutively-spliced exons. APOB exists as two natural isoforms: the full-length APOB100 isoform, assembled into LDL, VLDL, IDL and Lp(a) and secreted by the liver in humans; and the C-terminally truncated APOB48, assembled into chylomicrons and secreted by the intestine in humans. Down-regulation of APOB100 is a potential therapy to lower circulating LDL and cholesterol levels.
We investigated the ability of 2'O-methyl RNA antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to induce the skipping of exon 27 in endogenous APOB mRNA in HepG2 cells. These ASOs are directed towards the 5' and 3' splice-sites of exon 27, the branch-point sequence (BPS) of intron 26–27 and several predicted exonic splicing enhancers within exon 27. ASOs targeting either the 5' or 3' splice-site, in combination with the BPS, are the most effective. The splicing of other alternatively spliced genes are not influenced by these ASOs, suggesting that the effects seen are not due to non-specific changes in alternative splicing. The skip 27 mRNA is translated into a truncated isoform, APOB87SKIP27.
The induction of APOB87SKIP27 expression in vivo should lead to decreased LDL and cholesterol levels, by analogy to patients with hypobetalipoproteinemia. As intestinal APOB mRNA editing and APOB48 expression rely on sequences within exon 26, exon 27 skipping should not affect APOB48 expression unlike other methods of down-regulating APOB100 expression which also down-regulate APOB48.
PMCID: PMC1784105  PMID: 17233885

Results 1-11 (11)