Posts Tagged ‘“inhibiting” RNAs’

Brain Cancer Vaccine in Development and other considerations

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



GEN News Highlights   Mar 3, 2016

Advanced Immunotherapeutic Method Shows Promise against Brain Cancer

The researchers induced a specific type of cell death in brain cancer cells from mice. The dying cancer cells were then incubated together with dendritic cells, which play a vital role in the immune system. The researchers discovered that this type of cancer cell killing releases “danger signals” that fully activate the dendritic cells. “We re-injected the activated dendritic cells into the mice as a therapeutic vaccine,” Professor Patrizia Agostinis explains. “That vaccine alerted the immune system to the presence of dangerous cancer cells in the body. As a result, the immune system could recognize them and start attacking the brain tumor.” [©KU Leuven Laboratory of Cell Death Research & Therapy, Dr. Abhishek D. Garg]


Scientists from KU Leuven in Belgium say they have shown that next-generation cell-based immunotherapy may offer new hope in the fight against brain cancer.

Cell-based immunotherapy involves the injection of a therapeutic anticancer vaccine that stimulates the patient’s immune system to attack the tumor. Thus far, the results of this type of immunotherapy have been mildly promising. However, Abhishek D. Garg and Professor Patrizia Agostinis from the KU Leuven department of cellular and molecular medicine believe they have found a novel way to produce more effective cell-based anticancer vaccines.

The researchers induced a specific type of cell death in brain cancer cells from mice. The dying cancer cells were then incubated together with dendritic cells, which play a vital role in the immune system. The investigators discovered that this type of cancer cell killing releases “danger signals” that fully activate the dendritic cells.

“We re-injected the activated dendritic cells into the mice as a therapeutic vaccine,” explains Prof. Agostinis. “That vaccine alerted the immune system to the presence of dangerous cancer cells in the body. As a result, the immune system could recognize them and start attacking the brain tumor.”

Combined with chemotherapy, this novel cell-based immunotherapy drastically increased the survival rates of mice afflicted with brain tumors. Almost 50% of the mice were completely cured. None of the mice treated with chemotherapy alone became long-term survivors.

“The major goal of any anticancer treatment is to kill all cancer cells and prevent any remaining malignant cells from growing or spreading again,” says Professor Agostinis. “This goal, however, is rarely achieved with current chemotherapies, and many patients relapse. That’s why the co-stimulation of the immune system is so important for cancer treatments. Scientists have to look for ways to kill cancer cells in a manner that stimulates the immune system. With an eye on clinical studies, our findings offer a feasible way to improve the production of vaccines against brain tumors.”

The team published its study (“Dendritic Cell Vaccines Based on Immunogenic Cell Death Elicit Danger Signals and T Cell–Driven Rejection of High-Grade Glioma”) in Science Translational Medicine.


Dendritic cell vaccines based on immunogenic cell death elicit danger signals and T cell–driven rejection of high-grade glioma


SLC7A11 expression is associated with seizures and predicts poor survival in patients with malignant glioma


Cortical GABAergic excitation contributes to epileptic activities around human glioma


Spherical Nucleic Acid Nanoparticle Conjugates as an RNAi-Based Therapy for Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a neurologically debilitating disease that culminates in death 14 to 16 months after diagnosis. An incomplete understanding of how cataloged genetic aberrations promote therapy resistance, combined with ineffective drug delivery to the central nervous system, has rendered GBM incurable. Functional genomics efforts have implicated several oncogenes in GBM pathogenesis but have rarely led to the implementation of targeted therapies. This is partly because many “undruggable” oncogenes cannot be targeted by small molecules or antibodies. We preclinically evaluate an RNA interference (RNAi)–based nanomedicine platform, based on spherical nucleic acid (SNA) nanoparticle conjugates, to neutralize oncogene expression in GBM. SNAs consist of gold nanoparticles covalently functionalized with densely packed, highly oriented small interfering RNA duplexes. In the absence of auxiliary transfection strategies or chemical modifications, SNAs efficiently entered primary and transformed glial cells in vitro. In vivo, the SNAs penetrated the blood-brain barrier and blood-tumor barrier to disseminate throughout xenogeneic glioma explants. SNAs targeting the oncoprotein Bcl2Like12 (Bcl2L12)—an effector caspase and p53 inhibitor overexpressed in GBM relative to normal brain and low-grade astrocytomas—were effective in knocking down endogenous Bcl2L12 mRNA and protein levels, and sensitized glioma cells toward therapy-induced apoptosis by enhancing effector caspase and p53 activity. Further, systemically delivered SNAs reduced Bcl2L12 expression in intracerebral GBM, increased intratumoral apoptosis, and reduced tumor burden and progression in xenografted mice, without adverse side effects. Thus, silencing antiapoptotic signaling using SNAs represents a new approach for systemic RNAi therapy for GBM and possibly other lethal malignancies.


Rapid, Label-Free Detection of Brain Tumors with Stimulated Raman Scattering Microscopy

Surgery is an essential component in the treatment of brain tumors. However, delineating tumor from normal brain remains a major challenge. We describe the use of stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy for differentiating healthy human and mouse brain tissue from tumor-infiltrated brain based on histoarchitectural and biochemical differences. Unlike traditional histopathology, SRS is a label-free technique that can be rapidly performed in situ. SRS microscopy was able to differentiate tumor from nonneoplastic tissue in an infiltrative human glioblastoma xenograft mouse model based on their different Raman spectra. We further demonstrated a correlation between SRS and hematoxylin and eosin microscopy for detection of glioma infiltration (κ = 0.98). Finally, we applied SRS microscopy in vivo in mice during surgery to reveal tumor margins that were undetectable under standard operative conditions. By providing rapid intraoperative assessment of brain tissue, SRS microscopy may ultimately improve the safety and accuracy of surgeries where tumor boundaries are visually indistinct.


Neural Stem Cell–Mediated Enzyme/Prodrug Therapy for Glioma: Preclinical Studies


Magnetic Resonance Metabolic Imaging of Glioma


Exploiting the Immunogenic Potential of Cancer Cells for Improved Dendritic Cell Vaccines

Cancer immunotherapy is currently the hottest topic in the oncology field, owing predominantly to the discovery of immune checkpoint blockers. These promising antibodies and their attractive combinatorial features have initiated the revival of other effective immunotherapies, such as dendritic cell (DC) vaccinations. Although DC-based immunotherapy can induce objective clinical and immunological responses in several tumor types, the immunogenic potential of this monotherapy is still considered suboptimal. Hence, focus should be directed on potentiating its immunogenicity by making step-by-step protocol innovations to obtain next-generation Th1-driving DC vaccines. We review some of the latest developments in the DC vaccination field, with a special emphasis on strategies that are applied to obtain a highly immunogenic tumor cell cargo to load and to activate the DCs. To this end, we discuss the effects of three immunogenic treatment modalities (ultraviolet light, oxidizing treatments, and heat shock) and five potent inducers of immunogenic cell death [radiotherapy, shikonin, high-hydrostatic pressure, oncolytic viruses, and (hypericin-based) photodynamic therapy] on DC biology and their application in DC-based immunotherapy in preclinical as well as clinical settings.

Cancer immunotherapy has gained considerable momentum over the past 5 years, owing predominantly to the discovery of immune checkpoint inhibitors. These inhibitors are designed to release the brakes of the immune system that under physiological conditions prevent auto-immunity by negatively regulating cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) function. Following the FDA approval of the anti-cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen-4 (CTLA-4) monoclonal antibody (mAb) ipilimumab (Yervoy) in 2011 for the treatment of metastatic melanoma patients (1), two mAbs targeting programed death (PD)-1 receptor signaling (nivolumab and pembrolizumab) have very recently joined the list of FDA-approved checkpoint blockers (respectively, for the treatment of metastatic squamous non-small cell lung cancer and relapsed/refractory melanoma patients) (2, 3).

However, the primary goal of cancer immunotherapy is to activate the immune system in cancer patients. This requires the induction of tumor-specific T-cell-mediated antitumor immunity. Checkpoint blockers are only able to abrogate the brakes of a functioning antitumoral immune response, implying that only patients who have pre-existing tumor-specific T cells will benefit most from checkpoint blockade. This is evidenced by the observation that ipilimumab may be more effective in patients who have pre-existing, albeit ineffective, antitumor immune responses (4). Hence, combining immune checkpoint blockade with immunotherapeutic strategies that prime tumor-specific T cell responses might be an attractive and even synergistic approach. This relatively new paradigm has lead to the revival of existing, and to date disappointing (as monotherapies), active immunotherapeutic treatment modalities. One promising strategy to induce priming of tumor-specific T cells is dendritic cell (DC)-based immunotherapy.

Dendritic cells are positioned at the crucial interface between the innate and adaptive immune system as powerful antigen-presenting cells capable of inducing antigen-specific T cell responses (5). Therefore, they are the most frequently used cellular adjuvant in clinical trials. Since the publication of the first DC vaccination trial in melanoma patients in 1995, the promise of DC immunotherapy is underlined by numerous clinical trials, frequently showing survival benefit in comparison to non-DC control groups (68). Despite the fact that most DC vaccination trials differ in several vaccine parameters (i.e., site and frequency of injection, nature of the DCs, choice of antigen), DC vaccination as a monotherapy is considered safe and rarely associates with immune-related toxicity. This is in sharp contrast with the use of mAbs or cytokine therapies. Ipilumumab has, for instance, been shown to induce immune-related serious adverse events in up to one-third of treated melanoma patients (1). The FDA approval of Sipuleucel-T (Provenge), an autologous DC-enriched vaccine for hormone-resistant metastatic prostate cancer, in 2010 is really considered as a milestone in the vaccination community (9). After 15 years of extensive clinical research, Sipileucel-T became the first cellular immunotherapy ever that received FDA approval, providing compelling evidence for the substantial socio-economic impact of DC-based immunotherapy. DC vaccinations have most often been applied in patients with melanoma, prostate cancer, high-grade glioma, and renal cell cancer. Although promising objective responses and tumor-specific T cell responses have been observed in all these cancer-types (providing proof-of-principle for DC-based immunotherapy), the clinical success of this treatment is still considered suboptimal (6). This poor clinical efficacy can in part be attributed to the severe tumor-induced immune suppression and the selection of patients with advanced disease status and poor survival prognostics (6, 1012).

There is a consensus in the field that step-by-step optimization and standardization of the production process of DC vaccines, to obtain a Th1-driven immune response, might enhance their clinical efficacy (13). In this review, we address some recent DC vaccine adaptations that impact DC biology. Combining these novel insights might bring us closer to an ideal DC vaccine product that can trigger potent CTL- and Th1-driven antitumor immunity.

One factor requiring more attention in this production process is the immunogenicity of the dying or dead cancer cells used to load the DCs. It has been shown in multiple preclinical cancer models that the methodology used to prepare the tumor cell cargo can influence the in vivo immunogenic potential of loaded DC vaccines (1419). Different treatment modalities have been described to enhance the immunogenicity of cancer cells in the context of DC vaccines. These treatments can potentiate antitumor immunity by inducing immune responses against tumor neo-antigens and/or by selectively increasing the exposure/release of particular damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) that can trigger the innate immune system (14, 1719). The emergence of the concept of immunogenic cell death (ICD) might even further improve the immunogenic potential of DC vaccines. Cancer cells undergoing ICD have been shown to exhibit excellent immunostimulatory capacity owing to the spatiotemporally defined emission of a series of critical DAMPs acting as potent danger signals (20, 21). Thus far, three DAMPs have been attributed a crucial role in the immunogenic potential of nearly all ICD inducers: the surface-exposed “eat me” signal calreticulin (ecto-CRT), the “find me” signal ATP and passively released high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) (21). Moreover, ICD-experiencing cancer cells have been shown in various mouse models to act as very potent Th1-driving anticancer vaccines, already in the absence of any adjuvants (21, 22). The ability to reject tumors in syngeneic mice after vaccination with cancer cells (of the same type) undergoing ICD is a crucial hallmark of ICD, in addition to the molecular DAMP signature (21).

Here, we review the effects of three frequently used immunogenic modalities and four potent ICD inducers on DC biology and their application in DC vaccines in preclinical as well as clinical settings (Tables (Tables11 and and2).2). Moreover, we discuss the rationale for combining different cell death-inducing regimens to enhance the immunogenic potential of DC vaccines and to ensure the clinical relevance of the vaccine product.

A list of prominent enhancers of immunogenicity and ICD inducers applied in DC vaccine setups and their associations with DAMPs and DC biology.
A list of preclinical tumor models and clinical studies for evaluation of the in vivo potency of DC vaccines loaded with immunogenically killed tumor cells.
The Impact of DC Biology on the Efficacy of DC Vaccines

Over the past years, different DC vaccine parameters have been shown to impact the clinical effectiveness of DC vaccinations. In the next section, we will elaborate on some promising adaptations of the DC preparation protocol.

Given the labor-intensive ex vivo culturing protocol of monocyte-derived DCs and inspired by the results of the Provenge study, several groups are currently exploiting the use of blood-isolated naturally circulating DCs (7678). In this context, De Vries et al. evaluated the use of antigen-loaded purified plasmacytoid DCs for intranodal injection in melanoma patients (79). This strategy was feasible and induced only very mild side effects. In addition, the overall survival of vaccinated patients was greatly enhanced as compared to historical control patients. However, it still remains to be determined whether this strategy is more efficacious than monocyte-derived DC vaccine approaches (78). By contrast, experiments in the preclinical GL261 high-grade glioma model recently showed that vaccination with tumor antigen-loaded myeloid DCs resulted in more robust Th1 responses and a stronger survival benefit as compared to mice vaccinated with their plasmacytoid counterparts (80).

In view of their strong potential to stimulate cytotoxic T cell responses, several groups are currently exploring the use of Langerhans cell-like DCs as sources for DC vaccines (8183). These so-called IL-15 DCs can be derived from CD14+monocytes by culturing them with IL-15 (instead of the standard IL-4). Recently, it has been shown that in comparison to IL-4 DCs, these cells have an increased capacity to stimulate antitumor natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity in a contact- and IL-15-dependent manner (84). NK cells are increasingly being recognized as crucial contributors to antitumor immunity, especially in DC vaccination setups (85, 86). Three clinical trials are currently evaluating these Langerhans cell-type DCs in melanoma patients (NCT00700167, NCT 01456104, and NCT01189383).

Targeting cancer stem cells is another promising development, particularly in the setting of glioma (87). Glioma stem cells can foster tumor growth, radio- and chemotherapy-resistance, and local immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment (87, 88). Furthermore, glioma stem cells may express higher levels of tumor-associated antigens and MHC complex molecules as compared to non-stem cells (89, 90). A preclinical study in a rodent orthotopic glioblastoma model has shown that DC vaccines loaded with neuropsheres enriched in cancer stem cells could induce more immunoreactivity and survival benefit as compared to DCs loaded with GL261 cells grown under standard conditions (91). Currently there are four clinical trials ongoing in high-grade glioma patients evaluating this approach (NCT00890032, NCT00846456, NCT01171469, and NCT01567202).

With regard to the DC maturation status of the vaccine product, a phase I/II clinical trial in metastatic melanoma patients has confirmed the superiority of mature antigen-loaded DCs to elicit immunological responses as compared to their immature counterparts (92). This finding was further substantiated in patients diagnosed with prostate cancer and recurrent high-grade glioma (93, 94). Hence, DCs need to express potent costimulatory molecules and lymph node homing receptors in order to generate a strong T cell response. In view of this finding, the route of administration is another vaccine parameter that can influence the homing of the injected DCs to the lymph nodes. In the context of prostate cancer and renal cell carcinoma it has been shown that vaccination routes with access to the draining lymph nodes (intradermal/intranodal/intralymphatic/subcutaneous) resulted in better clinical response rates as compared to intravenous injection (93). In melanoma patients, a direct comparison between intradermal vaccination and intranodal vaccination concluded that, although more DCs reached the lymph nodes after intranodal vaccination, the melanoma-specific T cells induced by intradermal vaccination were more functional (95). Furthermore, the frequency of vaccination can also influence the vaccine’s immunogenicity. Our group has shown in a cohort-comparison trial involving relapsed high-grade glioma patients that shortening the interval between the four inducer DC vaccines improved the progression-free survival curves (58, 96).

Another variable that has been systematically studied is the cytokine cocktail that is applied to mature the DCs. The current gold standard cocktail for DC maturation contains TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, and PGE2 (97, 98). Although this cocktail upregulates DC maturation markers and the lymph node homing receptor CCR7, IL-12 production by DCs could not be evoked (97, 98). Nevertheless, IL-12 is a critical Th1-driving cytokine and DC-derived IL-12 has been shown to associate with improved survival in DC vaccinated high-grade glioma and melanoma patients (99, 100). Recently, a novel cytokine cocktail, including TNF-α, IL-1β, poly-I:C, IFN-α, and IFN-γ, was introduced (101, 102). The type 1-polarized DCs obtained with this cocktail produced high levels of IL-12 and could induce strong tumor-antigen-specific CTL responses through enhanced induction of CXCL10 (99). In addition, CD40-ligand (CD40L) stimulation of DCs has been used to mature DCs in clinical trials (100, 103). Binding of CD40 on DCs to CD40L on CD4+ helper T cells licenses DCs and enables them to prime CD8+ effector T cells.

A final major determinant of the vaccine immunogenicity is the choice of antigen to load the DCs. Two main approaches can be applied: loading with selected tumor antigens (tumor-associated antigens or tumor-specific antigens) and loading with whole tumor cell preparations (13). The former strategy enables easier immune monitoring, has a lower risk of inducing auto-immunity, and can provide “off-the-shelf” availability of the antigenic cargo. Whole tumor cell-based DC vaccines, on the other hand, are not HLA-type dependent, have a reduced risk of inducing immune-escape variants, and can elicit immunity against multiple tumor antigens. Meta-analytical data provided by Neller et al. have demonstrated enhanced clinical efficacy in several tumor types of DCs loaded with whole tumor lysate as compared to DCs pulsed with defined tumor antigens (104). This finding was recently also substantiated in high-grade glioma patients, although this study was not set-up to compare survival parameters (105).

Toward a More Immunogenic Tumor Cell Cargo

The majority of clinical trials that apply autologous whole tumor lysate to load DC vaccines report the straightforward use of multiple freeze–thaw cycles to induce primary necrosis of cancer cells (8, 93). Freeze–thaw induced necrosis is, however, considered non-immunogenic and has even been shown to inhibit toll-like receptor (TLR)-induced maturation and function of DCs (16). To this end, many research groups have focused on tackling this roadblock by applying immunogenic modalities to induce cell death.

Immunogenic Treatment Modalities

Tables Tables11 and and22 list some frequently applied treatment methods to enhance the immunogenic potential of the tumor cell cargo that is used to load DC vaccines in an ICD-independent manner (i.e., these treatments do not meet the molecular and/or cellular determinants of ICD). Immunogenic treatment modalities can positively impact DC biology by inducing particular DAMPs in the dying cancer cells (Table (Table1).1). Table Table22 lists the preclinical and clinical studies that investigated their in vivo potential. Figure Figure11 schematically represents the application and the putative modes of action of these immunogenic enhancers in the setting of DC vaccines.

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A schematic representation of immunogenic DC vaccines. Cancer cells show enhanced immunogenicity upon treatment with UV irradiation, oxidizing treaments, and heat shock, characterized by the release of particular danger signals and the (increased) production of tumor (neo-)antigens. Upon loading onto DCs, DCs undergo enhanced phagocytosis and antigen uptake and show phenotypic and partial functional maturation. Upon in vivo immunization, these DC vaccines elicit Th1- and cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL)-driven tumor rejection.

Ultraviolet Irradiation ….

Oxidation-Inducing Modalities

In recent years, an increasing number of data were published concerning the ability of oxidative stress to induce oxidation-associate molecular patterns (OAMPs), such as reactive protein carbonyls and peroxidized phospholipids, which can act as DAMPs (28, 29) (Table (Table1).1). Protein carbonylation, a surrogate indicator of irreversible protein oxidation, has for instance been shown to improve cancer cell immunogenicity and to facilitate the formation of immunogenic neo-antigens (30, 31).

One prototypical enhancer of oxidation-based immunogenicity is radiotherapy (21,23). In certain tumor types, such as high-grade glioma and melanoma, clinical trials that apply autologous whole tumor lysate to load DC vaccines report the random use of freeze–thaw cycles (to induce necrosis of cancer cells) or a combination of freeze–thaw cycles and subsequent high-dose γ-irradiation (8, 18) (Table (Table2).2). However, from the available clinical evidence, it is unclear which of both methodologies has superior immunogenic potential. In light of the oxidation-based immunogenicity that is associated with radiotherapy, we recently demonstrated the superiority of DC vaccines loaded with irradiated freeze–thaw lysate (in comparison to freeze–thaw lysate) in terms of survival advantage in a preclinical high-grade glioma model (18) (Table (Table2).2). ….

Heat Shock Treatment

Heat shock is a term that is applied when a cell is subjected to a temperature that is higher than that of the ideal body temperature of the organisms of which the cell is derived. Heat shock can induce apoptosis (41–43°C) or necrosis (>43°C) depending on the temperature that is applied (110). The immunogenicity of heat shock treated cancer cells largely resides within their ability to produce HSPs, such as HSP60, HSP70, and HSP90 (17, 32) (Table (Table1).1). …

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Figure 2

A schematic representation of immunogenic cell death (ICD)-based DC vaccines. ICD causes cancer cells to emit a spatiotemporally defined pattern of danger signals. Upon loading of these ICD-undergoing cancer cells onto DCs, they induce extensive phagocytosis and antigen uptake. Loaded DCs show enhanced phenotypic and functional maturation and immunization with these ICD-based DC vaccines instigates Th1-, Th17-, and cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL)-driven antitumor immunity in vivo.
Inducers of Immunogenic Cell Death

Immunogenic cell death is a cell death regimen that is associated with the spatiotemporally defined emission of immunogenic DAMPs that can trigger the immune system (20, 21, 113). ICD has been found to depend on the concomitant induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and activation of endoplasmatic reticulum (ER) stress (111). Besides the three DAMPs that are most crucial for ICD (ecto-CRT, ATP, and HMGB1), other DAMPs such as surface-exposed or released HSPs (notably HSP70 and HSP90) have also been shown to contribute to the immunogenic capacity of ICD inducers (20, 21). The binding of these DAMPs to their respective immune receptors (CD91 for HSPs/CRT, P2RX7/P2RY2 for ATP, and TLR2/4 for HMGB1/HSP70) leads to the recruitment and/or activation of innate immune cells and facilitates the uptake of tumor antigens by antigen-presenting cells and their cross-presentation to T cells eventually leading to IL-1β-, IL-17-, and IFN-γ-dependent tumor eradiation (22). This in vivo tumor rejecting capacity induced by dying cancer cells in the absence of any adjuvant, is considered as a prerequisite for an agent to be termed an ICD inducer. …

Although the list of ICD inducers is constantly growing (113), only few of these immunogenic modalities have been tested in order to generate an immunogenic tumor cell cargo to load DC vaccines (Tables (Tables11 and and2).2). Figure Figure22 schematically represents the preparation of ICD-based DC vaccines and their putative modes of action.


Ionizing X-ray or γ-ray irradiation exerts its anticancer effect predominantly via its capacity to induce DNA double-strand breaks leading to intrinsic cancer cell apoptosis (114). The idea that radiotherapy could also impact the immune system was derived from the observation that radiotherapy could induce T-cell-mediated delay of tumor growth in a non-irradiated lesion (115). This abscopal (ab-scopus, away from the target) effect of radiotherapy was later explained by the ICD-inducing capacity (116). Together with anthracyclines, γ-irradiation was one of the first treatment modalities identified to induce ICD. …


The phytochemical shikonin, a major component of Chinese herbal medicine, is known to inhibit proteasome activity. It serves multiple biological roles and can be applied as an antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer treatment. …

High-hydrostatic pressure

High-hydrostatic pressure (HHP) is an established method to sterilize pharmaceuticals, human transplants, and food. HHP between 100 and 250 megapascal (MPa) has been shown to induce apoptosis of murine and human (cancer) cells (121123). While DNA damage does not seem to be induced by HHP <1000 MPa, HHP can inhibit enzymatic functions and the synthesis of cellular proteins (122). Increased ROS production was detected in HHP-treated cancer cell lines and ER stress was evidenced by the rapid phosphorylation of eIF2α (42).  …

Oncolytic Viruses

Oncolytic viruses are self-replicating, tumor selective virus strains that can directly lyse tumor cells. Over the past few years, a new oncolytic paradigm has risen; entailing that, rather than utilizing oncolytic viruses solely for direct tumor eradication, the cell death they induce should be accompanied by the elicitation of antitumor immune responses to maximize their therapeutic efficacy (128). One way in which these oncolytic viruses can fulfill this oncolytic paradigm is by inducing ICD (128).

Thus far, three oncolytic virus strains can meet the molecular requirements of ICD; coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3), oncolytic adenovirus and Newcastle disease virus (NDV) (Table (Table1)1) (113). Infection of tumor cells with these viruses causes the production of viral envelop proteins that induce ER stress by overloading the ER. Hence, all three virus strains can be considered type II ICD inducers (113). …

Photodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an established, minimally invasive anticancer treatment modality. It has a two-step mode of action involving the selective uptake of a photosensitizer by the tumor tissue, followed by its activation by light of a specific wavelength. This activation results in the photochemical production of ROS in the presence of oxygen (129131). One attractive feature of PDT is that the ROS-based oxidative stress originates in the particular subcellular location where the photosensitizer tends to accumulate, ultimately leading to the destruction of the tumor cell (132). …

Combinatorial Regimens

In DC vaccine settings, cancer cells are often not killed by a single treatment strategy but rather by a combination of treatments. In some cases, the underlying rationale lies within the additive or even synergistic value of combining several moderately immunogenic modalities. The combination of radiotherapy and heat shock has, for instance, been shown to induce higher levels of HSP70 in B16 melanoma cells than either therapy alone (16). In addition, a combination therapy consisting of heat shock, γ-irradiation, and UV irradiation has been shown to induce higher levels of ecto-CRT, ecto-HSP90, HMGB1, and ATP in comparison to either therapy alone or doxorubicin, a well-recognized inducer of ICD (57). ….

Triggering antitumor immune responses is an absolute requirement to tackle metastatic and diffusely infiltrating cancer cells that are resistant to standard-of-care therapeutic regimens. ICD-inducing modalities, such as PDT and radiotherapy, have been shown to be able to act as in situ vaccines capable of inducing immune responses that caused regression of distal untreated tumors. Exploiting these ICD inducers and other immunogenic modalities to obtain a highly immunogenic antigenic tumor cell cargo for loading DC vaccines is a highly promising application. In case of the two prominent ICD inducers, Hyp-PDT and HHP, preclinical studies evaluating this relatively new approach are underway and HHP-based DC vaccines are already undergoing clinical testing. In the preclinical testing phase, more attention should be paid to some clinically driven considerations. First, one should consider the requirement of 100% mortality of the tumor cells before in vivo application. A second consideration from clinical practice (especially in multi-center clinical trials) is the fact that most tumor specimens arrive in the lab in a frozen state. This implies that a significant number of cells have already undergone non-immunogenic necrosis before the experimental cell killing strategies are applied. ….



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A Reconstructed View of Personalized Medicine

Author: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


There has always been Personalized Medicine if you consider the time a physician spends with a patient, which has dwindled. But the current recognition of personalized medicine refers to breakthrough advances in technological innovation in diagnostics and treatment that differentiates subclasses within diagnoses that are amenable to relapse eluding therapies.  There are just a few highlights to consider:

  1. We live in a world with other living beings that are adapting to a changing environmental stresses.
  2. Nutritional resources that have been available and made plentiful over generations are not abundant in some climates.
  3. Despite the huge impact that genomics has had on biological progress over the last century, there is a huge contribution not to be overlooked in epigenetics, metabolomics, and pathways analysis.

A Reconstructed View of Personalized Medicine

There has been much interest in ‘junk DNA’, non-coding areas of our DNA are far from being without function. DNA has two basic categories of nitrogenous bases: the purines (adenine [A] and guanine [G]), and the pyrimidines (cytosine [C], thymine [T], and  no uracil [U]),  while RNA contains only A, G, C, and U (no T).  The Watson-Crick proposal set the path of molecular biology for decades into the 21st century, culminating in the Human Genome Project.

There is no uncertainty about the importance of “Junk DNA”.  It is both an evolutionary remnant, and it has a role in cell regulation.  Further, the role of histones in their relationship the oligonucleotide sequences is not understood.  We now have a large output of research on noncoding RNA, including siRNA, miRNA, and others with roles other than transcription. This requires major revision of our model of cell regulatory processes.  The classic model is solely transcriptional.

  • DNA-> RNA-> Amino Acid in a protein.

Redrawn we have

  • DNA-> RNA-> DNA and
  • DNA->RNA-> protein-> DNA.

Neverthess, there were unrelated discoveries that took on huge importance.  For example, since the 1920s, the work of Warburg and Meyerhoff, followed by that of Krebs, Kaplan, Chance, and others built a solid foundation in the knowledge of enzymes, coenzymes, adenine and pyridine nucleotides, and metabolic pathways, not to mention the importance of Fe3+, Cu2+, Zn2+, and other metal cofactors.  Of huge importance was the work of Jacob, Monod and Changeux, and the effects of cooperativity in allosteric systems and of repulsion in tertiary structure of proteins related to hydrophobic and hydrophilic interactions, which involves the effect of one ligand on the binding or catalysis of another,  demonstrated by the end-product inhibition of the enzyme, L-threonine deaminase (Changeux 1961), L-isoleucine, which differs sterically from the reactant, L-threonine whereby the former could inhibit the enzyme without competing with the latter. The current view based on a variety of measurements (e.g., NMR, FRET, and single molecule studies) is a ‘‘dynamic’’ proposal by Cooper and Dryden (1984) that the distribution around the average structure changes in allostery affects the subsequent (binding) affinity at a distant site.

What else do we have to consider?  The measurement of free radicals has increased awareness of radical-induced impairment of the oxidative/antioxidative balance, essential for an understanding of disease progression.  Metal-mediated formation of free radicals causes various modifications to DNA bases, enhanced lipid peroxidation, and altered calcium and sulfhydryl homeostasis. Lipid peroxides, formed by the attack of radicals on polyunsaturated fatty acid residues of phospholipids, can further react with redox metals finally producing mutagenic and carcinogenic malondialdehyde, 4-hydroxynonenal and other exocyclic DNA adducts (etheno and/or propano adducts). The unifying factor in determining toxicity and carcinogenicity for all these metals is the generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Various studies have confirmed that metals activate signaling pathways and the carcinogenic effect of metals has been related to activation of mainly redox sensitive transcription factors, involving NF-kappaB, AP-1 and p53.

I have provided mechanisms explanatory for regulation of the cell that go beyond the classic model of metabolic pathways associated with the cytoplasm, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and lysosome, such as, the cell death pathways, expressed in apoptosis and repair.  Nevertheless, there is still a missing part of this discussion that considers the time and space interactions of the cell, cellular cytoskeleton and extracellular and intracellular substrate interactions in the immediate environment.

There is heterogeneity among cancer cells of expected identical type, which would be consistent with differences in phenotypic expression, aligned with epigenetics.  There is also heterogeneity in the immediate interstices between cancer cells.  Integration with genome-wide profiling data identified losses of specific genes on 4p14 and 5q13 that were enriched in grade 3 tumors with high microenvironmental diversity that also substratified patients into poor prognostic groups. In the case of breast cancer, there is interaction with estrogen , and we refer to an androgen-unresponsive prostate cancer.

Finally,  the interaction between enzyme and substrates may be conditionally unidirectional in defining the activity within the cell.  The activity of the cell is dynamically interacting and at high rates of activity.  In a study of the pyruvate kinase (PK) reaction the catalytic activity of the PK reaction was reversed to the thermodynamically unfavorable direction in a muscle preparation by a specific inhibitor. Experiments found that in there were differences in the active form of pyruvate kinase that were clearly related to the environmental condition of the assay – glycolitic or glyconeogenic. The conformational changes indicated by differential regulatory response were used to present a dynamic conformational model functioning at the active site of the enzyme. In the model, the interaction of the enzyme active site with its substrates is described concluding that induced increase in the vibrational energy levels of the active site decreases the energetic barrier for substrate induced changes at the site. Another example is the inhibition of H4 lactate dehydrogenase, but not the M4, by high concentrations of pyruvate. An investigation of the inhibition revealed that a covalent bond was formed between the nicotinamide ring of the NAD+ and the enol form of pyruvate.  The isoenzymes of isocitrate dehydrogenase, IDH1 and IDH2 mutations occur in gliomas and in acute myeloid leukemias with normal karyotype. IDH1 and IDH2 mutations are remarkably specific to codons that encode conserved functionally important arginines in the active site of each enzyme. In this case, there is steric hindrance by Asp279 where the isocitrate substrate normally forms hydrogen bonds with Ser94.

Personalized medicine has been largely viewed from a lens of genomics.  But genomics is only the reading frame.  The living activities of cell processes are dynamic and occur at rapid rates.  We have to keep in mind that personalized in reference to genotype is not complete without reconciliation of phenotype, which is the reference to expressed differences in outcomes.


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Small but mighty RNAs

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

Leaders in Pharmaceutical Intelligence

Series E. 2; 3.5

Revised 9/30/2015

Albert Lasker
Basic Medical Research Award

Victor Ambros, David Baulcombe, and Gary Ruvkun

For discoveries that revealed an unanticipated world of tiny RNAs that regulate gene function in plants and animals

The 2008 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research honors three scientists who discovered an unanticipated world of tiny RNAs that regulate gene activity in plants and animals. Victor R. Ambros (University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester) and Gary B. Ruvkun (Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Harvard Medical School) unearthed the first example of this type of molecule in animals and demonstrated how the RNAs turn off genes whose activities are crucial for development. David C. Baulcombe (University of Cambridge) established that small RNAs silence genes in plants as well, thus catalyzing discoveries of many such RNAs in a wide range of living things. His findings led to the identification of the biochemical machinery that unifies numerous processes by which small RNAs govern gene activity.

Ambros, Baulcombe, and Ruvkun did not set out to unveil small regulatory RNAs. Ambros and Ruvkun were studying how the worm Caenorhabditis elegans develops from a newly hatched larva into an adult. Baulcombe, in a seemingly unrelated line of inquiry, was probing how plants defend themselves against viruses. All three investigators possessed the open mindedness, wisdom, and experimental finesse to entertain the possibility—and then verify—that tiny RNAs could perform momentous feats. Their work has led to the realization that these molecules are pivotal regulators of normal physiology as well as disease.

RNA—the little molecule that could
In the early 1980s, Ambros joined the laboratory of Robert Horvitz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a postdoctoral fellow. He wanted to outline the means by which genes choreograph the construction of fully formed adults from single cells. Analyses of flies had revealed that certain genes instruct embryos where to place body parts—for example, wings belong on each side and legs belong on the bottom. But Ambros was intrigued by the notion that other genes might specify the timing—rather than the location—of developmental events; alterations in such genes might cause cells and tissues to adopt fates that are normally associated with earlier or later stages of development.

He directed his attention toward one of the first-known genes of this type, called lin-4, which had been identified earlier in the laboratory of Sydney Brenner (Lasker Special Achievement Award, 2000) and subsequently characterized by Horvitz, Martin Chalfie, and John Sulston. Ambros recognized that, during worms’ trek toward adulthood, those with inactive lin-4 get stuck repeating early larval stages. Consequently, they lack cell types and structures typical of fully formed animals and instead contain extra copies of cells ordinarily produced only at early stages. These observations suggested that normal lin-4 allows immature worms to advance past a particular developmental stage; animals with the defective version cannot overcome that hurdle. Ambros discovered that worms lacking a different gene—lin-14—were the antithesis of those with inactive lin-4. The animals skip early steps in development and prematurely acquire characteristics that normally appear later. These and other results suggested that lin-4 and lin-14 exert opposite effects in worm cells.

To dig further into lin-14‘s function and its possible relationship with lin-4, Ruvkun, who by this time (1982) had joined Horvitz’s laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow, collaborated with Ambros to isolate the lin-14 gene. After the investigators set up independent laboratories in the mid 1980s, Ruvkun, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, established that the protein product of lin-14 is abundant during early larval stages and then its quantities plummet. Under conditions in which it unnaturally remains plentiful, early steps repeat, suggesting that the normal drop in the lin-14 protein allows worms to proceed to later stages. Ambros, at Harvard University, found that lin-4 dampens lin-14 activity and thus a picture emerged about how the genes collaborate. At the appropriate time, lin-4 blocks lin-14 and thus allows worms to continue their developmental trajectory.

Ruvkun sought to identify the portion(s) of lin-14 that lin-4 targets, so he tracked down certain genetic anomalies in lin-14‘s sequence that underlie excess production of the lin-14 protein. He found that these alterations reside in the area of the gene that follows the protein blueprint, a span called the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR). The perturbations do not influence amounts of the protein’s messenger RNA (mRNA), the molecule that carries genetic information from DNA to the cell’s protein-making factory, Ruvkun showed. Rather, they alter protein quantities. Therefore, molecules that turn off lin-14 after early stages of development presumably exert their effects through the 3′ UTR region of the lin-14 mRNA and prevent the cell from translating its code into protein.

In the meantime, Ambros’s laboratory was isolating the lin-4 gene, which they assumed encoded a protein; although a few RNAs were known to control gene activity in bacteria, conventional wisdom held that, in animal cells, proteins alone enjoy such powers. The team homed in on smaller and smaller pieces of DNA from normal animals that restore typical developmental behavior to a worm that lacks lin-4. Stretches of DNA that were far shorter than standard genes worked. Eventually, the researchers began considering the possibility that its product was an RNA, but they still assumed that the regulatory molecule they sought would be a respectable size. The smallest RNAs known to do anything important in cells contained about 75 nucleotide (nt) building blocks. Eventually, however, their experiments led them to a tiny RNA, composed of about 22 nucleotides. A larger—61 nt—molecule that contained the smaller RNA appeared as well and Ambros noticed that it could fold into a double-stranded “hairpin”—a structure whose significance would become clear years later.

In an exciting exchange of data, Ambros and Ruvkun realized that the 22-nt lin-4 RNA matched sections within the 3′ UTR of the lin-14 mRNA: These sequences could bind one another by the same base-pairing rules that hold together the Watson and Crick DNA strands. In this view, the tiny lin-4 RNA settles on the target lin-14mRNA—in its 3′ UTR—and the resulting double-stranded structure somehow interferes with translation of the lin-14 mRNA’s genetic information into protein (see illustration).

Image of microRNA
Small but mighty.
This scheme shows how one type of tiny RNA, a microRNA (miRNA), silences genes. It is cut out of a precursor hairpin-shaped pre-miRNA to form a mature miRNA, which binds to the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR) of a target gene’s messenger RNA and turns off its activity. [Credit: Carin Cain. Based on an illustration from Victor Ambros]

Despite verification that lin-4 was a tiny RNA with huge regulatory powers, these 1993 findings constituted a mere blip on most biologists’ radar screens: lin-4 resided only in worms, so the phenomenon seemed like an oddity that most organisms did not exploit. Worms were exotic in many ways, experts reasoned, and the observation only fueled that attitude.

Branching out to plants and beyond
Across the Atlantic, David Baulcombe, then of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, was studying how plants resist viruses. When he and others added to viral-infected plants unusual versions of viral genes, the mRNA copies of the normal genes as well as the newly introduced ones disappeared. Similarly, experimentally added non-viral genes suppressed activity of plant genes that contained similar sequences. Baulcombe proposed that such gene silencing occurs when RNAs embrace target mRNA—through typical Watson-Crick base-pairing—and promote destruction of the mRNA or interfere with its translation into protein. However, no one could find such RNAs.

Baulcombe reasoned that the predicted RNAs might have eluded researchers because the molecules were shorter than anyone imagined and thus, experiments had not been designed to detect them. In 1999, he and a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory, Andrew Hamilton, devised a hunt specifically for small RNAs. They added test genes to plants and found 25-nt long RNAs that matched; furthermore, these small RNAs appeared only under conditions in which target mRNA activity was shut off. The stunning similarity in size between the plant and worm RNAs suggested that small regulatory RNAs exist in many organisms. Furthermore, it hinted at the presence of cellular machinery that dedicates itself to creating these precisely sized molecules and then uses them to quash gene activity.

In 2000, Ruvkun’s laboratory discovered a second tiny regulatory RNA in worms of exactly the same size as thelin-4 RNA and in the same genetic pathway. Similar to the lin-4 RNA, this let-7 RNA dampens activity of its target gene through its 3′ UTR. Furthermore, its sequence too resides within a larger molecule that folds up on itself to form a double-stranded hairpin structure. Later that year, Ruvkun found that many other creatures, including humans, fruit flies, chickens, frogs, zebrafish, mollusks and sea urchins, carry their own versions of let-7, which could also fold into hairpins. The apparent binding site for let-7 RNA in its target was conserved in some of these organisms as well. Moreover, let-7 RNA appeared and disappeared at similar points during development in many of the animals.

The small RNAs, now called microRNAs (miRNAs), had broken through their designation as “worm curiosities.” Researchers realized that the miRNAs likely execute vital functions during growth and development of other creatures as well. Multiple teams raced to expose regulatory RNAs of approximately 22 nucleotides in length. In 2001, Ambros’s group, now at Dartmouth Medical School, in Hanover, as well as those of David Bartel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Thomas Tuschl (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, G�ttingen) discovered almost 100 of these small regulatory RNAs in flies, humans, and worms.

In addition to revealing that small regulatory RNAs dwell in organisms other than worms, Baulcombe’s finding caught many researchers’ attention because it seemed related to a process called RNA interference (RNAi), which had recently exploded onto the biological scene. In RNAi, long RNAs injected into cells hamper gene activity from similar sequences. No one knew why organisms possessed this ability, but presumably it played some role in normal physiology. In 1998, Andrew Fire (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore) and Craig Mello (University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester), published a watershed paper that defined the fundamental features of RNAi (which garnered them the Nobel Prize in 2006). That work yielded the surprising insight that the process depends on double-stranded RNA. However, the means by which double-stranded RNA triggered silencing remained mysterious.

Experiments from Baulcombe’s laboratory provided the crucial clues. Production of the silencing RNA strand depended on the presence of the other strand, he had noticed. This observation suggested that, at some point during manufacture of the small regulatory RNA, it exists as part of a double-stranded molecule. Suddenly it seemed possible that Baulcombe’s tiny RNAs arose by trimming longer molecules of the type that Fire and Mello had discovered. Furthermore, this notion suggested that the hairpin-like lin-4 and let-7 RNAs similarly gave rise to the mature, 22-nt entities.

Scientists wondered whether the cell deployed the same biochemical machinery to create and use RNA molecules that subdued gene activity in all of these gene-silencing systems. However, the mechanisms of the worm miRNAs seemed to differ from those of the plant molecules as well as RNAi. Unlike the system that Ambros and Ruvkun had been untangling, which allowed mRNA to accumulate but thwarted cells’ abilities to translate the information it contained into protein, the plant system and RNAi destroyed mRNA. For that reason and others, many people doubted that the processes were connected. Still the possibility that they shared a common mechanism and machinery tantalized researchers.

In 2001, the Mello, Ruvkun, and Fire groups collaborated to show that efficient liberation of the lin-4 and let-7RNAs from the hairpin molecules relies on the C. elegans version of Dicer, an enzyme that Gregory Hannon (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) discovered and named for its ability to chop dsRNA into uniformly sized, small RNAs that direct mRNA destruction during RNAi. These results and others, including similar ones generated by Philip Zamore (University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester), cemented the connection between miRNAs and RNAi, thus providing one biological “reason” for the RNAi machinery. Moreover, they identified the apparatus by which cells generate miRNAs and harness them for key pursuits.

Studies in the past several years have indicated that the human genome contains more than 500 and perhaps as many as 1000 miRNAs that could collectively control a third of all of our protein-producing genes. These regulatory molecules have been implicated in a wide range of normal and pathological activities. They play roles not only in embryonic development, but in blood-cell specialization, cancer, muscle function, heart disease, viral infections, and possibly neurological signaling and stem-cell behavior. Researchers are exploring the possibility of using miRNAs “signatures” for diagnosis and prognosis and are considering manipulating their quantities for therapeutic purposes.

Looking where no one had looked before, Ambros, Baulcombe, and Ruvkun spied an unforeseen universe of potent molecules. Their work has elevated these hitherto unrecognized agents into the spotlight of biology and medicine.

by Evelyn Strauss, Ph.D.

2014 Gruber Genetics Prize
Trio honored for pioneering discoveries of microRNAs
By Jim Fessenden
UMass Medical School Communications

Victor R. Ambros, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, has been awarded the 2014 Gruber Genetics Prize, along with longtime collaborator Gary Ruvkun, PhD, professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and David Baulcombe, PhD, professor of botany at the University of Cambridge. They received the prize for their pioneering discoveries of the existence and function of microRNAs and small interfering RNAs, molecules that are now known to play a critical role in gene expression. Dr. Ambros is the Silverman Chair in Natural Sciences and co-director of the RNAi Therapeutics Institute.

Gary Ruvkun, PhD, was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences on November 9, along with Victor Ambros for their work on the discovery of microRNAs and their broad use in biology.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation announced the recipients of the 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Fundamental Physics and Life Sciences. These distinguished winners, along with previously announced recipients in the Mathematics category, each receive a $3 million prize.


Gary Ruvkun, PhD, of the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology and the Department of Molecular Biology, has been awarded the 2014 Gruber Genetics Prize from the Gruber Foundation through Yale University for his work with Victor Ambros, PhD, University of Massachusetts, identifying the existence of microRNAs in animals that control the activity of other genes.


Phillip A. Sharp, PhD
Koch Institute Professor of Integrative Cancer Research

The Sharp Lab focuses on the biology and technology of small RNAs and other types of non-coding RNAs.  RNA interference (RNAi) has dramatically expanded the possibilities for genotype/phenotype analysis in cell biology and for therapeutic intervention.  MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are encoded by endogenous genes and regulate primarily at the stage of translation over half of all genes in mammalian cells.  The Sharp laboratory is working to identify physically the target mRNAs for particular miRNAs.  His laboratory has recently discovered a new class of microRNAs that are produced from sequences adjacent to transcription start sites (TSS-miRNAs).  The functions of the small RNAs are a subject of investigation.  His laboratory is also investigating the relationship between gene regulation by miRNAs and angiogenesis and cellular stress.  Most promoters and enhancers in mammalian cells are transcribed divergently with RNA polymerases initiating in both directions.  Divergent transcription generates thousands of long non-coding RNAs.  The extent of elongation by polymerase in either the sense direction or the antisense direction is controlled by recognition of the nascent RNA by U1 snRNP, a spliceosome component.  The function of the divergent non-coding transcripts is being investigated as well as the relationship of RNA splicing, chromatin modifications and transcription.


Noncoding RNAs: A Cache of Cancer Clues?

Rummaging through the Noncoding RNA Attic Has Brought to Light Interesting Baubles—miRNAs and lncRNAs

Kathy Liszewski    GEN Sep  1, 2015 (Vol. 35, No. 15)


At Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers discovered that estrogen receptors can hijack the androgen-signaling pathway to promote prostate cancer growth. In particular, they found that the estrogen receptor can activate NEAT1, a long noncoding RNA. NEAT1 target genes were determined to be upregulated in several prostate cancer datasets.


At Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers discovered that estrogen receptors can hijack the androgen-signaling pathway to promote prostate cancer growth. In particular, they found that the estrogen receptor can activate NEAT1, a long noncoding RNA. NEAT1 target genes were determined to be upregulated in several prostate cancer datasets.

In the postgenomic era, the numerous and diverse noncoding RNA species once dismissed as “junk RNA” are increasingly seen as treasure. Noncoding RNAs, we now know, have diverse functions in health and disease.

Some in the field believe that we have only started to appreciate the riches of noncoding RNA. The ultimate jewels? They may prove to be previously hidden connections with cancer.

Almost as numerous as newly discovered RNA baubles are the newly organized RNA conferences. One such event, Molecular and Cellular Biology: MicroRNAs and Noncoding RNAs in Cancer, was held June 7–12 in Keystone, CO. This event, a Keystone Symposia conference, focused on the complex universe of RNA biology that is disturbed in cancer.

Providing a perspective on the field was John L. Rinn, Ph.D., an associate professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, Harvard Medical School. He said that if you are not reading a new textbook, your ideas about RNA may be wrong.

“This is a dynamic and fast-moving field,” he insisted. “Recent advances in RNA sequencing technologies have disclosed the existence of thousands of previously unknown noncoding transcripts, including many long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) whose functions remain mostly undetermined. However, there are an increasing number of examples that show they are not only key regulators of gene expression, but also direct targets of cancer pathways.”

The laboratory of John L. Rinn, Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School has been studying the role of large intervening ncRNAs (lincRNAs) in establishing the distinct epigenetic states of adult and embryonic cells and their mis-regulation in diseases such as cancer.


The laboratory of John L. Rinn, Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School has been studying the role of large intervening ncRNAs (lincRNAs) in establishing the distinct epigenetic states of adult and embryonic cells and their mis-regulation in diseases such as cancer.

Noncoding RNAs include the well-known microRNAs (miRNAs) and the lesser-known lncRNAs. Usually defined on the basis of their size, the single-stranded short miRNAs consist of about 22 nucleotides. They regulate gene expression via translation inhibition or degradation of their mRNA targets. Long ncRNAs refer to transcripts that consist of more than 200 nucleotides and lack extended open reading frames. This arbitrary cutoff excludes most known, yet still poorly understood, classes of small RNAs, such as tRNAs and short interfering RNAs.

Recent studies have provided an intriguing hypothesis: Long ncRNAs may be the missing links in cancer. According to Dr. Rinn, “We now know that lncRNAs constitute an important layer of genome regulation over a diverse array of biological processes and diseases, such as cancer.”

Since the ultimate cause of cancer is altered homeostasis of cellular networks and gene expression programs, even the slightest perturbation of these pathways can result in malignant cellular transformation. “These cell circuits are fine-tuned and largely maintained by the coordinated functioning of proteins as well as ncRNAs,” explained Dr. Rinn. “But, beyond the layer of the well-known protein-coding RNAs and miRNAs, lies the realm of lncRNAs that are fast emerging as critical components and regulators of tumor-suppressor and oncogenic pathways.”

Regulator of Metastasis

A precancerous lesion imaged at the University of Minnesota shows abnormal duct morphology and cell proliferation in the mammary gland of a 10-week-old mouse engineered with a single copy number increase of Myc and Pvt1. Gain of Myc alone does not produce such a phenotype.

A precancerous lesion imaged at the University of Minnesota shows abnormal duct morphology and cell proliferation in the mammary gland of a 10-week-old mouse engineered with a single copy number increase of Myc and Pvt1. Gain of Myc alone does not produce such a phenotype.

The major specific hallmarks of cancer include malignant cell migration, invasion, and metastasis. The latter is the primary cause of cancer recurrence and subsequent death.

“Deregulated lncRNAs may impact a diverse array of human cancers, especially their progression,” said David L. Spector, Ph.D., a professor at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “One of these lncRNAs is the cancer-associated MALAT1 [metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1]. It’s not only very abundant in many types of human cells; it is also highly conserved across many mammalian species.”

Dr. Spector’s laboratory identified a novel mechanism for 3′-end processing of this nucleus-restricted lncRNA and is dissecting its mechanism of action: “Since MALAT1 is upregulated in several human cancers, it may play an important role during tumor progression. Because its physiological function at the tissue and organismal levels was unknown, we developed a Malat1 loss-of-function genetic mouse model. Since our in vivo studies demonstrated that Malat1 isn’t essential for mouse development and does not affect global gene expression, we are currently pursuing whether this is due to redundancy or context dependency.”

The team of Sven Diederichs at the German Cancer Research Center DKFZ, in collaboration with the Spector lab, examined the role of MALAT1 by knocking it out in human lung tumor cells. They incorporated an RNA-destabilizing element using zinc finger nucleases. This resulted in a unique loss-of-function model with more than a 1,000-fold silencing. When these cells were utilized in a xenograft mouse model, they found that MALAT1-deficient cells had impaired migration and homing to the lungs. This study supports a role of MALAT1 as a regulator of cell migration that is important in gene expression governing the metastasis of lung cancer cells.

These findings have therapeutic implications, according to Dr. Spector. “MALAT1 could represent a predictive marker of disease and use of antisense oligonucleotides could provide a potential therapeutic strategy,” he concluded.

To extend these studies, Dr. Spector’s group is now examining how altered levels of MALAT1 might impact breast cancer initiation and progression.

Noncoding RNAs: A Cache of Cancer Clues?

Rummaging through the Noncoding RNA Attic Has Brought to Light Interesting Baubles—miRNAs and lncRNAs


At Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers discovered that estrogen receptors can hijack the androgen-signaling pathway to promote prostate cancer growth. In particular, they found that the estrogen receptor can activate NEAT1, a long noncoding RNA. NEAT1 target genes were determined to be upregulated in several prostate cancer datasets.

  • In the postgenomic era, the numerous and diverse noncoding RNA species once dismissed as “junk RNA” are increasingly seen as treasure. Noncoding RNAs, we now know, have diverse functions in health and disease.
  • Some in the field believe that we have only started to appreciate the riches of noncoding RNA. The ultimate jewels? They may prove to be previously hidden connections with cancer.
  • Almost as numerous as newly discovered RNA baubles are the newly organized RNA conferences. One such event, Molecular and Cellular Biology: MicroRNAs and Noncoding RNAs in Cancer, was held June 7–12 in Keystone, CO. This event, a Keystone Symposia conference, focused on the complex universe of RNA biology that is disturbed in cancer.
  • Providing a perspective on the field was John L. Rinn, Ph.D., an associate professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, Harvard Medical School. He said that if you are not reading a new textbook, your ideas about RNA may be wrong.
  • “This is a dynamic and fast-moving field,” he insisted. “Recent advances in RNA sequencing technologies have disclosed the existence of thousands of previously unknown noncoding transcripts, including many long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) whose functions remain mostly undetermined. However, there are an increasing number of examples that show they are not only key regulators of gene expression, but also direct targets of cancer pathways.”

The laboratory of John L. Rinn, Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School has been studying the role of large intervening ncRNAs (lincRNAs) in establishing the distinct epigenetic states of adult and embryonic cells and their mis-regulation in diseases such as cancer.

  • Noncoding RNAs include the well-known microRNAs (miRNAs) and the lesser-known lncRNAs. Usually defined on the basis of their size, the single-stranded short miRNAs consist of about 22 nucleotides. They regulate gene expression via translation inhibition or degradation of their mRNA targets. Long ncRNAs refer to transcripts that consist of more than 200 nucleotides and lack extended open reading frames. This arbitrary cutoff excludes most known, yet still poorly understood, classes of small RNAs, such as tRNAs and short interfering RNAs.
  • Recent studies have provided an intriguing hypothesis: Long ncRNAs may be the missing links in cancer. According to Dr. Rinn, “We now know that lncRNAs constitute an important layer of genome regulation over a diverse array of biological processes and diseases, such as cancer.”
  • Since the ultimate cause of cancer is altered homeostasis of cellular networks and gene expression programs, even the slightest perturbation of these pathways can result in malignant cellular transformation. “These cell circuits are fine-tuned and largely maintained by the coordinated functioning of proteins as well as ncRNAs,” explained Dr. Rinn. “But, beyond the layer of the well-known protein-coding RNAs and miRNAs, lies the realm of lncRNAs that are fast emerging as critical components and regulators of tumor-suppressor and oncogenic pathways.”
  • Regulator of Metastasis

A precancerous lesion imaged at the University of Minnesota shows abnormal duct morphology and cell proliferation in the mammary gland of a 10-week-old mouse engineered with a single copy number increase of Myc and Pvt1. Gain of Myc alone does not produce such a phenotype.

A Dangerous PartnershipThe major specific hallmarks of cancer include malignant cell migration, invasion, and metastasis. The latter is the primary cause of cancer recurrence and subsequent death.

  • “Deregulated lncRNAs may impact a diverse array of human cancers, especially their progression,” said David L. Spector, Ph.D., a professor at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “One of these lncRNAs is the cancer-associated MALAT1 [metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1]. It’s not only very abundant in many types of human cells; it is also highly conserved across many mammalian species.”
  • Dr. Spector’s laboratory identified a novel mechanism for 3′-end processing of this nucleus-restricted lncRNA and is dissecting its mechanism of action: “Since MALAT1 is upregulated in several human cancers, it may play an important role during tumor progression. Because its physiological function at the tissue and organismal levels was unknown, we developed a Malat1 loss-of-function genetic mouse model. Since our in vivo studies demonstrated that Malat1 isn’t essential for mouse development and does not affect global gene expression, we are currently pursuing whether this is due to redundancy or context dependency.”
  • The team of Sven Diederichs at the German Cancer Research Center DKFZ, in collaboration with the Spector lab, examined the role of MALAT1 by knocking it out in human lung tumor cells. They incorporated an RNA-destabilizing element using zinc finger nucleases. This resulted in a unique loss-of-function model with more than a 1,000-fold silencing. When these cells were utilized in a xenograft mouse model, they found that MALAT1-deficient cells had impaired migration and homing to the lungs. This study supports a role of MALAT1 as a regulator of cell migration that is important in gene expression governing the metastasis of lung cancer cells.
  • These findings have therapeutic implications, according to Dr. Spector. “MALAT1 could represent a predictive marker of disease and use of antisense oligonucleotides could provide a potential therapeutic strategy,” he concluded.
  • To extend these studies, Dr. Spector’s group is now examining how altered levels of MALAT1 might impact breast cancer initiation and progression.

One lncRNA, PVT1, is keeping bad company, at least according to new studies linking it to the key cancer-causing oncogene, MYC. This unexpected partnership has stirred up much interest in the scientific community, especially since MYC is linked to a majority of human cancers.

Anindya Bagchi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of genetics, cell biology and development, University of Minnesota, reported that her group began by looking at structural alterations in cancer genome. “[Of particular interest is the loss or gain of particular segments of the genome that occurs recurrently in cancer,” he notes. “One such region that is of immense interest to us is 8q24, a genomic region often found to be gained in a number of cancers.

“The well-characterized myelocytomatosis (MYC) oncogene resides in the 8q24.21 region. We found that in cancer, MYC is consistently co-gained with an adjacent ‘gene desert’ of about 2 megabases that includes the lncRNA gene PVT1.”

Dr. Bagchi and colleagues utilized chromosomal engineering in mice to construct three iterations to model: MYC only, MYC plus this surrounding area, and the surrounding region alone. “Surprisingly, we found that MYC enhanced tumor growth only when the surrounding region was included,” Dr. Bagchi pointed out. “This verified that MYC is not acting alone.

“We next utilized primary human cancer cell lines and found that PVT1 RNA and MYC protein expression were correlated. Further, we determined that copy number of PVT1 was increased in more than 98% of cancers with MYC gain.”

Finally, Dr. Bagchi’s group definitively fingered PVT1 as the co-conspirator with MYC. The investigators knocked it out of MYC-driven colon cancer cells and found the tumors virtually disappeared. According to Dr. Bagchi, this study complements previous studies and establishes an important finding: Long ncRNA PVT1 interacts with MYC in the nucleus and protects the MYC protein from degradation, probably by reducing phosphorylation of its threonine 58 residue.

“What makes this finding so exciting is that we now may have a much needed tool to target the notoriously elusive MYC protein that has been refractory to small-molecule inhibition,” asserted Dr. Bagchi. “Perhaps by uncoupling this dangerous partnership and targeting PVT1, we could remove the driver that amplifies a major cancer gene.”

  • Prostate Cancer and Noncoding RNA

Given the roles played by ncRNAs in a host of biological processes, it is no surprise that these species also impact prostate cancer progression and therapy resistance. Nonetheless, details of the relationship between ncRNAs and prostate cancer remain to be elucidated, said Dimple Chakravarty, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“Deregulated or aberrant expression of steroid nuclear receptors are linked with cancer progression and thus are also major targets for therapeutic intervention,” observed Dr. Chakravarty. “But specific therapies are often inadequate.

“For example, the androgen receptor [AR] plays a central role in this malignant progression. Despite the initial effectiveness of therapeutic androgen ablation, resistance inevitably develops to both first generation anti-androgen therapies and to second-generation AR-targeted therapies. The reasons for this are unclear.”

Dr. Chakravarty and colleagues wanted to better understand the role of the estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) that is expressed in prostate cancers. “Our studies identified an ERα-specific noncoding transcriptome signature. This lured us into the noncoding world,” she disclosed.

Dr. Chakravarty and her collaborators, including Mark A Rubin, M.D., a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell, scrutinized a combination of chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and RNA-sequencing data. The investigators found that the most significantly overexpressed and ERα-regulated lncRNA in prostate cancer samples was a transcript called NEAT1, the nuclear enriched abundant transcript 1.

“Our studies utilized a battery of approaches,” detailed Dr. Chakravarty. “We used qRT-PCR and RNA-ISH to examine NEAT1 mRNA levels in prostate cancer tissue and in cell lines, and we analyzed public datasets of normal versus prostate cancer with advanced disease. Epigenetic studies demonstrated that NEAT1 is recruited to the chromatin of prostate cancer genes and contributes to an epigenetic ‘on’ state.”


Dr. Chakravarty expressed excitement over these findings: “This study is the first of its kind to demonstrate transcriptional regulation of lncRNAs by an alternative steroid receptor in prostate cancer. We believe NEAT1 could serve as both a prognostic marker for aggressive prostate cancer and also a potential therapeutic target.


“Completed and ongoing studies suggest NEAT1 is a good marker for patient risk stratification and a predictor of therapy resistance. We are now exploring the possibility of knocking it out in vivo to see if there is a therapeutic benefit. It could be that targeting NEAT1 and the androgen receptor in combination may provide a unique treatment strategy for a subset of patients who have advanced prostate cancer.”

  • Mouse Models for Noncoding RNA

Genetically engineered mouse models of human cancer have been indispensable in dissecting the molecular mechanisms involved in tumorigenesis. They also provide powerful platforms for preclinically studying drug sensitivity and resistance, said Andrea Ventura, M.D., Ph.D., a cancer biologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“Mouse models can explore the physiological function of microRNAs such as determining how they affect development and their response to tumor treatments. It is almost impossible to do these studies otherwise,” explained Dr. Ventura. “Another way mouse models are important is for modeling noncoding RNA.”


Tools for Studying and Using Small RNAs: From Pathways to Functions to Therapies
This poster provides an overview of the tools that have been developed to understand the functions of small RNAs and, conversely, the use of small RNAs as tools. Tools that are based on small RNAs have been exploited to investigate gene function in cultured cells and in living animals. Small RNA biogenesis, discovery and functional roles are explored in detail.

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Delineating a Role for CRISPR-Cas9 in Pharmaceutical Targeting

Author & Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Chief Scientific Officer, Leaders in Pharmaceutical Intelligence, Boston, MA



The recent development of advanced methods for genome engineering has superceded methods already in used in recent years of the 21st century.  The CRISPR-Cas9 application for genome editing has real potential for pharmaceutical development, and perhaps also for diagnostics.  The importance of conjoint development of diagnostics and therapeutics can’t be overstressed. Further, the limitations of the method have to be viewed in the light of the historical development of inborn errors of human metabolism, and current understanding of complex polygenomic and environmental risk factors.

Key words: classic model, CRISPR-Cas9, DNA, genome, genome editing, genetic diseases, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, inborn errors of metabolism, polygenetic diseases, RNA, RNAi, translation.

Abbreviations: CRISPR-Cas9; DNA; HWE; RNA.


Genome editing technologies enable the deletion, insertion or correction of DNA at specific targeted sites within an organism’s genome. The power of the technology lies in its ability to specifically target any site in the genome and to alter the DNA sequence at that site. This has opened the door to potentially curing diseases caused by genetic defects, whether inherited or acquired.

Genome editing can be applied across many diverse fields of science. It has allowed researchers to gain a much deeper understanding of the role played by individual genes. Researchers working in the biomedical field use these techniques to address diseases that are known to have a genetic origin.

Early genome-editing research focused on the use of zinc finger nucleases and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), which laid important foundations in establishing genome engineering as a potential approach for treating human diseases.

The recent discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, followed by work demonstrating its advantages over traditional approaches, promises a step-change in the use of genome editing to develop transformative medicines for serious human diseases.

Cas9* is an endonuclease (an enzyme) that can be easily programmed with RNA to cut DNA at targeted sites within the genome, enabling the deletion, insertion or correction of target genes, including those that cause diseases, with surgical precision. By using CRISPR-Cas9* genome-editing technology, scientists and clinicians are conducting pioneering research with a view to tackling both recessive and dominant genetic defects.

In order to find a place for CRISPR-Cas9 in gene therapy, it becomes necessary to consider inborn errors of metabolism and the evolution of traditional approaches to genetic diseases. Traditional gene therapy approaches to date have only been useful in correcting some recessive genetic disorders. Thanks to its ease of use and broad applicability, CRISPR-Cas9 has truly democratized genome editing and transformed many areas of research. Thousands of academic laboratories across the world are carrying out research using the technology. To this point, the technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 has been a science project, a research tool with enormous potential.

Genetic Disorders

genetic disorder is a genetic problem caused by one or more abnormalities in the genome, especially a condition that is present from birth (congenital). Most genetic disorders are quite rare and affect one person in every several thousands or millions.

Genetic disorders may or may not be heritable, i.e., passed down from the parents’ genes. In non-heritable genetic disorders, defects may be caused by new mutations or changes to the DNA. In such cases, the defect will only be heritable if it occurs in the germ line. The same disease, such as some forms of cancer, may be caused by an inherited genetic condition in some people, by new mutations in other people, and mainly by environmental causes in still other people. Whether, when and to what extent a person with the genetic defect or abnormality will actually suffer from the disease is almost always affected by the environmental factors and events in the person’s development.

single-gene disorder is the result of a single mutated gene. Over 4000 human diseases are caused by single-gene defects.[4] Single-gene disorders can be passed on to subsequent generations in several ways. Genomic imprinting and uniparental disomy, however, may affect inheritance patterns. The divisions betweenrecessive and dominant types are not “hard and fast”, although the divisions between autosomal and X-linked types are (since the latter types are distinguished purely based on the chromosomal location of the gene). For example, achondroplasia is typically considered a dominant disorder, but children with two genes for achondroplasia have a severe skeletal disorder of which achondroplasics could be viewed as carriers. Sickle-cell anemia is also considered a recessive condition, but heterozygous carriers have increased resistance to malaria in early childhood, which could be described as a related dominant condition.[5] When a couple where one partner or both are sufferers or carriers of a single-gene disorder wish to have a child, they can do so through in vitro fertilization, which means they can then have a preimplantation genetic diagnosis to check whether the embryo has the genetic disorder.[6]

Prevalence of some single-gene disorders[citation needed]
Disorder prevalence (approximate)
Autosomal dominant
Familial hypercholesterolemia 1 in 500
Polycystic kidney disease 1 in 1250
Neurofibromatosis type I 1 in 2,500
Hereditary spherocytosis 1 in 5,000
Marfan syndrome 1 in 4,000[2]
Huntington’s disease 1 in 15,000[3]
Autosomal recessive
Sickle cell anaemia 1 in 625
Cystic fibrosis 1 in 2,000
Tay-Sachs disease 1 in 3,000
Phenylketonuria 1 in 12,000
Mucopolysaccharidoses 1 in 25,000
Lysosomal acid lipase deficiency 1 in 40,000
Glycogen storage diseases 1 in 50,000
Galactosemia 1 in 57,000

Heritable Diseases and Normal Variants

Identification of Genes for Childhood Heritable Diseases

Annual Review of Medicine Jan 2014; 65: 19-31

Boycott KM, Dyment DA, Sawyer SL, Vanstone MR, and Beaulieu CL.

Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, K1H 8L1 Canada

Genes causing rare heritable childhood diseases are being discovered at an accelerating pace driven by the decreasing cost and increasing accessibility of next-generation DNA sequencing combined with the maturation of strategies for successful gene identification. The findings are shedding light on the biological mechanisms of childhood disease and broadening the phenotypic spectrum of many clinical syndromes. Still, thousands of childhood disease genes remain to be identified, and given their increasing rarity, this will require large-scale collaboration that includes mechanisms for sharing phenotypic and genotypic data sets. Nonetheless, genomic technologies are poised for widespread translation to clinical practice for the benefit of children and families living with these rare diseases.

Single gene defects result in abnormalities in the synthesis or catabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, or complex molecules. Most are due to a defect in an enzyme or transport protein, which results in a block in a metabolic pathway. Effects are due to toxic accumulations of substrates before the block, intermediates from alternative metabolic pathways, defects in energy production and use caused by a deficiency of products beyond the block, or a combination of these metabolic deviations. Nearly every metabolic disease has several forms that vary in age of onset, clinical severity, and, often, mode of inheritance.

There is a large number of inborn errors of metabolism.

A few examples are:

Fructose intolerance
Maple sugar urine disease (MSUD)
Phenylketonuria (PKU)

Newborn screening tests can identify some of these disorders

Categories of inborn errors of metabolism, or IEMs, are as follows:

  • Disorders that result in toxic accumulation
    • Disorders of protein metabolism (eg, amino acidopathies, organic acidopathies, urea cycle defects)
    • Disorders of carbohydrate intolerance
    • Lysosomal storage disorders
  • Disorders of energy production, utilization
    • Fatty acid oxidation defects
    • Disorders of carbohydrate utilization, production (ie, glycogen storage disorders, disorders of gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis)
    • Mitochondrial disorders
    • Peroxisomal disorders



Giants in the 20th century study of genetic medicine

  1. Victor Almon McKusick


Victor McKusick 
Known for Mendelian Inheritance in Man,OMIM and McKusick–Kaufman syndrome
Notable awards William Allan Award (1977)
Lasker Award (1997)
Japan Prize (2008)


Victor Almon McKusick (October 21, 1921 – July 22, 2008), an internist and medical geneticist, was the University Professor of Medical Genetics and Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins HospitalBaltimore, MD, USA.[1] He was a proponent of the mapping of the human genome due to its use for studying congenital diseases. He is well known for his studies of the Amish and, what he called, “little people”. He was the original author and, until his death, remained chief editor of Mendelian Inheritance in Man (MIM) and its online counterpart Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). He is widely known as the “father of medical genetics”.[2]

McKusick traveled to Copenhagen to speak about the heritable disorders of connective tissue at the first international congress of human genetics. The meeting looms as the birthplace of the medical genetics field.[2] In the following decades, McKusick created and chaired a new Division of Medical Genetics at Hopkins beginning in 1957. In 1973, he served as Physician-in-Chief, William Osler Professor of Medicine, and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine.[6]  He held concurrent appointments as University Professor of Medical Genetics at the McKusick–Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Professor of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Professor of Biology at Johns Hopkins University.[5] He co-founded Genomics in 1987 with Dr. Frank Ruddle, and served as an editor.[6] He was a lead investigator in determining if Abraham Lincoln had Marfan syndrome.[8]

  1. Elizabeth F. Neufeld

Born in France, Elizabeth Neufeld immigrated to the United States in 1940. She obtained a BS from Queens College, New York and a Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley. After postdoctoral training in, she moved to the NIH in Bethesda, MD, where she began her studies of a rare group of genetic diseases. She moved back to California in 1984 as Chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry – a position that she occupied till 2004.

The brain in a mouse model of a genetic lysosomal disorder, Sanfilippo syndrome type B

Our interests have long been the cause, consequences and treatment of human genetic diseases due to deficiency of lysosomal enzymes. The disease currently under investigation is the Sanfilippo syndrome type B (MPS III B). It is caused by mutation in the NAGLU gene, with resulting deficiency of the lysosomal enzyme alpha-N-acetyl-glucosaminidase and accumulation of its substrate (heparan sulfate). The disease manifests itself in childhood by severe mental retardation and intractable behavioral problems. The neurologic deterioration progresses to dementia, with death usually in the second decade. We use a mouse knockout model (Naglu -/-) in order to study the pathophysiology of the disease and to develop therapy. Because of the special cell biology of lysosomal enzymes, which can be taken up by receptor-mediated endocytosis, exogenous administration of the enzyme could theoretically cure the disease. Unfortunately, the blood-brain barrier (BBB) prevents the therapeutic enzyme from reaching the brain. Part of our current research is to develop a novel technology to get lysosomal enzymes across the BBB. We also study changes in gene and protein expression in some specific parts of the brain, in which there is accumulation of certain lipids and proteins which seem unrelated biochemically to each other or to the primary defect. We try to understand the cause and consequences of these accumulations. Although they are secondary defects, they may be relevant to the pathophysiology of the dieease and may have represent targets for pharmacologic intervention.

Neufeld began her scientific studies at a time when few women chose science as a career. The historical bias against women in science, compounded with an influx of men coming back from the Second World War and going to college, made positions for women rare; few women could be found in the science faculties of colleges and universities.

When she first began working on Hurler syndrome in 1967, she initially thought the problem might stem from faulty regulation of the sugars, but experiments showed the problem was in fact the abnormally slow rate at which the sugars were broken down. Working with fellow scientist Joseph Fratantoni, Neufeld attempted to isolate the problem by tagging mucopolysaccharides with radioactive sulfate, as well as mixing normal cells with MPS patient cells. Fratantoni inadvertently mixed cells from a Hurler patient and a Hunter patient—and the result was a nearly normal cell culture. The two cultures had essentially “cured” each other.

In 1973 Neufeld was named chief of NIH’s Section of Human Biochemical Genetics, and in 1979 she was named chief of the Genetics and Biochemistry Branch of the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIADDK). She served as deputy director in NIADDK’s Division of Intramural Research from 1981 to 1983. In 1984 Neufeld went back to the University of California, this time the Los Angeles campus, as chair of the biological chemistry department.

Neufeld’s research opened the way for prenatal diagnosis of such life-threatening fetal disorders as Hurler syndrome. Neufeld chaired the Scientific Advisory Board of the National MPS Society and was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 1992 to 1993. She was elected to both the National Academy of Sciences (USA) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1977 and named a fellow of the American Association for Advancement in Science in 1988. In 1990 she was named California Scientist of the Year. She was awarded the Wolf Prize, the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research, and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1994 “for her contributions to the understanding of the lysosomal storage diseases, demonstrating the strong linkage between basic and applied scientific investigation.”[3]

  1. Jarvis “Jay” Edwin Seegmiller, M.D.

“Jay Seegmiller was one of the giants of American medicine,” said Edward Holmes, M.D., Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at UCSD. “He and his trainees have made innumerable contributions to our understanding of the pathogenesis of many human disorders. Seegmiller was one of the country’s leading researchers in intermediary metabolism, with a focus on purine metabolism and inherited metabolism.  He worked in the field of human biochemical genetics, with a special interest in the mechanisms by which genetically determined defects of metabolism lead to various forms of arthritis.  His laboratory identified a wide range of primary metabolic defects in metabolism responsible for development of gout.

He is perhaps best known for his discovery of the enzyme defect in Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, a fatal disorder of the nervous system causing severe mental retardation and self-mutilation impulses.  As Director of the Human Biochemical Genetics Program at UCSD, Seegmiller’s investigations into the translation of genetic research and methods of prevention, detection and treatment of hereditary diseases led to Congressional testimony on the possibility of controlling genetic disease in the United States.  As a result, genetic referral centers have been established throughout the country.

He joined the newly established UCSD School of Medicine in 1969 as head of the Arthritis Division of the Department of Medicine. There, he directed a research program in human biochemical genetics involving senior faculty from five departments within the School of Medicine.  While a professor at UCSD, he served as a Macy Scholar both at Oxford University and at the Basel Institute in Switzerland, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow at the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research in Lausanne.

In 1983, he became the founding director of what is today UCSD’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging (SIRA). Even after his retirement, he continued to serve as Associate Director of SIRA from 1990 until his death.

“He had the foresight of proposing the formation of and then establishing a new Institute on Aging at UCSD before there was any such Institute in the entire UC system,” said Dilip Jeste, M.D., the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and current Director of SIRA.   “He was himself a role model of successful aging, and continued working in the SIRA till his very last days.

Seegmiller received his Doctor of Medicine with honors from the University of Chicago in 1948.  After he completed his internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, he trained with Bernard Horecker of the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Disease at the National Institutes of Health.

Seegmiller was appointed Senior Investigator of the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Disease in 1954, where he carried out biochemical and clinical studies of human hereditary disease, with a special interest in those causing various forms of arthritis.  He became Assistant Scientific Director of the Institute in 1960, and was appointed Chief of the section on Human Biochemical Genetics in 1966, becoming one of several NIH leaders recruited to help launch UC San Diego’s new medical school.

Seegmiller’s clinical activities included studies in life longevity in South America.  In 1974, he joined a team of notable scientists and traveled to the remote village of Vilcabamba in Ecuador, to find out what role genetic factors played in the population of the Andean villagers who comprised some of the longest-living people in the world.  His later work led to the discovery of free radicals and their damaging effects in the human ability to withstand diseases, bringing forward new investigations on human aging at SIRA.

Seegmiller was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was the recipient of numerous prizes and awards in honor of his extraordinary achievements in science and medicine.  He received the United States Public Health Distinguished Service Award in 1969; and was honored as Master of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) in 1992. He was on the advisory boards for the National Genetics Foundation, the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California, the Task Force on Endocrinology and Metabolism for NIH, the Executive Editorial Board for Analytical Biochemistry, and was President of the Western Association of Physicians in 1979.

What has changed?

The 21st century has seen the mapping of the human genome. The huge focus on the genome came after the Watson and Crick discovery put the genome at the center of the translational network with the central hypothesis. What followed was transcription of RNA into placement of an amino acid into protein. The central hypothesis is DNA           RNA           protein.  However, RNAi and non-translational RNA are now also important.  RNA has a role in suppressing translation, as do proteins by allosteric effects. In addition, the most common diseases involved in age related change are strongly responsive to extracellular matrix effects, ionic fluxes, effects on the cellular matrix, and involve multicentric genome expression. This mode of expression leads one to think hard about the therapeutic target, or targets. The effect of RNA or of protein interacting with the genome is not an element of the classic construct.

Identifying a part of the problem

Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, arrhythmias, atherosclerotic plaque development, cancer, congestive heart disease, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary interstitial sclerosis, and renovascular disease are among the common diseases that develop during a lifetime. The phenotypic presentations may have genomic associations, and there may also be population variants.  There is also a cross-talk between these phenotypic expressions. Classically, medical terminology has been based on signs and symptoms of disease.  In the increasingly complex experience, the laboratory has played an increased role in the diagnosis as well as prognostication. The laboratory experience with respect to the practice of medicine has heavily relied of either proteins, enzymes, or the products of chemical reactions.  The use of genomic profiling has rapidly emerged in the laboratory armamentarium, but has had a slow ascent in practice.

Case in Point. Pompe’s disease

William Canfield is a glycobiologist, chief scientific officer and founder of an Oklahoma City-based biotechnology company, Novazyme, which was acquired by Genzyme in August 2001 and developed, among other things, an enzyme that can stabilize (but not cure) Pompe disease, based on Canfield’s ongoing research since 1998.[1][2]   

John Crowley took over a position as a CEO in Novazyme after leaving Bristol-Myers Squibb in March 2000 and together with Dr. Y. T. Chen[4] at Duke University pushed for expedited approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a new drug compound, NZ-1001 under orphan drug designation for the treatment of Glycogen storage disease type II in October 2005. The FDA stated: “We have determined that Novazyme’s recombinant human highly phosphorylated acid alpha-glucosidase (rhHPGAA) qualifies for orphan designation for enzyme replacement therapy in patients with all subtypes of glycogen storage disease type II (Pompe’s disease).” [5][6] Subsequent research at Genzyme on NZ-1001 along with three other potential compounds brought approval of the first enzyme replacement therapy for Pompe’s disease – Alglucosidase alfa (Myozyme or Lumizyme, Genzyme Inc) in 2006.[7]

William Canfields work with Pompes Disease was fictionalized and made the subject of a 2010 movie Extraordinary Measures in which he is called Dr. Robert Stonehill and played by Harrison Ford.[8]

Case in point.  Polymorphisms in the long non-coding RNA

Hypertension (HT) is a complex disorder influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Recent genome-wide association studies have identified a major risk locus for atherosclerosis on chromosome 9p21.3 (chr9p21.3). SNPs within the coding sequences of CDKN2A/B proteins and the long non-coding RNA CDKN2B-AS1 could potentially contribute to HT development. Such a study has now been done. The findings suggest that SNPs rs10757274, rs2383207, rs10757278, and rs1333049, particularly those within the CDKN2B-AS1 gene, and related haplotypes may confer increased susceptibility to HT development. (unpublished)

Case in point. Lipoprotein Lipase and Atherosclerosis

Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) plays a pivotal role in lipids and metabolism of lipoprotein. Dysfunctions of LPL have been found to be associated with dyslipidemia, obesity and insulin resistance.Dyslipidemia, obesity and insulin resistance are risk factor of atherosclerosis. Japanese investigators have  hypothesized that elevating LPL activity would cause protection of atherosclerosis. (unpublished).

Case in  point. Holocaust survivors pass on stress.

Descendants of Holocaust Survivors Have Altered Stress Hormones

Parents’ traumatic experience may hamper their offspring’s ability to bounce back from trauma

Case in point. Genome engineering with CRISPR-Cas9

The new frontier of genome engineering with CRISPR-Cas9


Jennifer A. Doudna* and Emmanuelle Charpentier*
Science Nov 2014; 346(6213) 1258096:1077 – 1087.

BACKGROUND: Technologies for making and manipulating DNA have enabled advances in biology ever since the discovery of the DNA double helix. But introducing site-specific modifications in the genomes of cells and organisms remained elusive. Early approaches relied on the principle of site-specific recognition of DNA sequences by oligonucleotides, small molecules, or self-splicing introns. More recently, the site-directed zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) and TAL effector nucleases (TALENs) using the principles of DNAprotein recognition were developed. However, difficulties of protein design, synthesis, and validation remained a barrier to


The field of biology is now experiencing a transformative phase with the advent of facile genome engineering in animals and plants using RNA-programmable CRISPR-Cas9. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology originates from type II CRISPR-Cas systems, which provide bacteria with adaptive immunity to viruses and plasmids. The CRISPR associated protein Cas9 is an endonuclease that uses a guide sequence within an RNA duplex, tracrRNA:crRNA, to form base pairs with DNA target sequences, enabling Cas9 to introduce a site-specific double-strand break in the DNA. The dual tracrRNA:crRNA was engineered as a single guide RNA (sgRNA) that retains two critical features: a sequence at the 5  side that determines the DNA target site by Watson-Crick base-pairing and a duplex RNA structure at the 3 side that binds to Cas9. This finding created a simple two-component system in which changes in the guide sequence of the sgRNA program Cas9 to target any DNA sequence of interest. The simplicity of CRISPR-Cas9 programming, together with a unique DNA cleaving mechanism, the capacity for multiplexed target recognition, and the existence of many natural type II CRISPR-Cas system variants, has enabled remarkable developments using this cost-effective and easy-to-use technology to precisely and efficiently target, edit, modify, regulate, and mark genomic loci of a wide array of cells and organisms.

Figure (not shown)

The Cas9 enzyme (blue) generates breaks in double-stranded DNA by using its two catalytic centers (blades) to cleave each strand of a DNA target site (gold) next to a PAM sequence (red) and matching the 20-nucleotide sequence (orange) of the single guide RNA (sgRNA). The sgRNA includes a dual-RNA sequence derived from CRISPR RNA (light green) and a separate transcript (tracrRNA, dark green) that binds and stabilizes the Cas9 protein. Cas9-sgRNA–mediated DNA cleavage produces a blunt double-stranded break that triggers repair enzymes to disrupt or replace DNA sequences at or near the cleavage site. Catalytically inactive forms of Cas9 can also be used for programmable regulation of transcription and visualization of genomic loci.

This Review illustrates the power of the technology to systematically analyze gene functions in mammalian cells, study genomic rearrangements and the progression of cancers or other diseases, and potentially correct genetic mutations responsible for inherited disorders. CRISPR-Cas9 is having a major impact on functional genomics conducted in experimental systems. Its application in genome-wide studies will enable large-scale screening for drug targets and other phenotypes and will facilitate the generation of engineered animal models that will benefit pharmacological studies and the understanding of human diseases. CRISPR-Cas9 applications in plants and fungi also promise to change the pace and course of agricultural research. Future research directions to improve the technology will include engineering or identifying smaller Cas9 variants with distinct specificity that may be more amenable to delivery in human cells. Understanding the homology-directed repair mechanisms that follow Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage will enhance insertion of new or corrected sequences into genomes. The development of specific methods for efficient and safe delivery of Cas9 and its guide RNAs to cells and tissues will also be critical for applications of the technology in human gene therapy.

Case in point.

ZFN, TALEN and CRISPR/Cas-based methods for genome engineering

Thomas Gaj1,2,3, Charles A. Gersbach4,5, and Carlos F. Barbas III1,2,3 1The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA 2Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA 3Department of Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA 4Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA 5Institutes for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

Trends Biotechnol . 2013 July ; 31(7): 397–405.

Abstract Zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) comprise a powerful class of tools that are redefining the boundaries of biological research. These chimeric nucleases are composed of programmable, sequence-specific DNA-binding modules linked to a non-specific DNA cleavage domain. ZFNs and TALENs enable a broad range of genetic modifications by inducing DNA double-strand breaks that stimulate error-prone nonhomologous end joining or homology-directed repair at specific genomic locations. Here, we review achievements made possible by site-specific nuclease technologies and discuss applications of these reagents for genetic analysis and manipulation. In addition, we highlight the therapeutic potential of ZFNs and TALENs and discuss future prospects for the field, including the emergence of CRISPR/Cas-based RNA-guided DNA endonucleases.

Keywords zinc-finger; TALE; CRISPR; nuclease; genome engineering

Classical and contemporary approaches for establishing gene function With the development of new and affordable methods for whole-genome sequencing, and the design and implementation of large-scale genome annotation projects, scientists’ are poised to deliver upon the promises of the Genomic Revolution to transform basic science and personalized medicine. The resulting wealth of information presents researchers with a new primary challenge of converting this enormous amount of data into functionally and clinically relevant knowledge. Central to this problem is the need for efficient and reliable methods that enable investigators to determine how genotype influences phenotype. Targeted gene inactivation via homologous recombination is a powerful method capable of providing conclusive information for evaluating gene function.

Several factors impede the use of these methods:

  • the low efficiency at which engineered constructs are correctly inserted into the chromosomal target site,
  • the need for time-consuming and labor-insensitive selection/screening strategies, and
  • the potential for adverse mutagenic effects.

Targeted gene knockdown by RNA interference (RNAi) has provided researchers with a rapid, inexpensive and high-throughput alternative to homologous recombination. However, knockdown by RNAi is incomplete, varies between experiments and laboratories, has unpredictable off-target effects, and provides only temporary inhibition of gene function. These restrictions impede researchers’ ability to directly link phenotype to genotype and limit the practical application of RNAi technology.

In the past decade, a new approach has emerged that enables investigators to directly manipulate virtually any gene in a diverse range of cell types and organisms. This core technology – commonly referred to as “genome editing” – is based on the use of engineered nucleases composed of sequence-specific DNA-binding domains fused to a non-specific DNA cleavage module. These chimeric nucleases enable efficient and precise genetic modifications by inducing targeted DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) that stimulate the cellular DNA repair mechanisms, including error-prone non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) and homology-directed repair (HDR).

Case in point.

CRISPR/Cas9 and Targeted Genome Editing: A New Era in Molecular Biology

The development of efficient and reliable ways to make precise, targeted changes to the genome of living cells is a long-standing goal for biomedical researchers. Recently, a new tool based on a bacterial CRISPR-associated protein-9 nuclease (Cas9) from Streptococcus pyogenes has generated considerable excitement. This follows several attempts over the years to manipulate gene function, including homologous recombination and RNA interference (RNAi).

RNAi, in particular, became a laboratory staple enabling inexpensive and high-throughput interrogation of gene function, but it is hampered by providing only temporary inhibition of gene function and unpredictable off-target effects. Other recent approaches to targeted genome modification – zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), and transcription-activator like effector nucleases (TALENs) – enable researchers to generate permanent mutations by introducing double stranded breaks to activate repair pathways. These approaches are costly and time-consuming to engineer, limiting their widespread use, particularly for large scale, high-throughput studies.

The Biology of Cas9

The functions of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) genes are essential in adaptive immunity in select bacteria and archaea, enabling the organisms to respond to and eliminate invading genetic material. These repeats were initially discovered in the 1980s in E. coli, but their function wasn’t confirmed until 2007 by Barrangou and colleagues, who demonstrated that S. thermophilus can acquire resistance against a bacteriophage by integrating a genome fragment of an infectious virus into its CRISPR locus.

Three types of CRISPR mechanisms have been identified, of which type II has been the most studied. In this case, invading DNA from viruses or plasmids is cut into small fragments and incorporated into a CRISPR locus amidst a series of short repeats (around 20 bps). The loci are transcribed, and transcripts are then processed to generate small RNAs (crRNA – CRISPR RNA), which are used to guide effector endonucleases that target invading DNA based on sequence complementarity (Figure 1) (not shown).

In the acquisition phase, foreign DNA is incorporated into the bacterial genome at the CRISPR loci. CRISPR loci is then transcribed and processed into crRNA during crRNA biogenesis. During interference, Cas9 endonuclease complexed with a crRNA and separate tracrRNA cleaves foreign DNA containing a 20-nucleotide crRNA complementary sequence adjacent to the PAM sequence.

Investment in CRISPR technology

CRISPR Therapeutics is a biopharmaceutical company created to translate CRISPR-Cas9, a breakthrough genome-editing technology, into transformative medicines for serious human diseases. We are uniquely positioned to translate CRISPR-Cas9 technology into human therapeutics, thanks to its multi-disciplinary team of world-renowned academics, clinicians and drug developers.

CRISPR Therapeutics’ vision is to cure serious human diseases at the molecular level using CRISPR-Cas9. The company is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland and has operations in London, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The biopharmaceutical company that is focused on translating CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology into transformative medicines for serious human diseases, congratulates its scientific founder, Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, for being named to TIME Magazine’s TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World alongside fellow CRISPR-Cas9 discoverer, Dr. Jennifer Doudna. In addition, Dr. Emmanuelle was awarded the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, considered the most prestigious European award for researchers in the life sciences, for her discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool. She will receive the award in a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 22, 2015.

Dr. Charpentier has received numerous additional awards for her research, including in 2014 the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, the Dr Paul Janssen Award, the Grand-Prix Jean-Pierre Lecocq (French Academy of Sciences), the Göran Gustafsson Prize (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) and in 2015 the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. She was also selected as one of the American Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers for 2014.

Cambridge-based Editas Medicine announced a $120 million Series B round led by Bill Gates’s chief advisor for science and technology, Boris Nikolic. The list of financiers teaming with Nikolic reads like a rolodex of so-called crossover investors. Nikolic, who joined Editas’ board, made the investment through what’s been called “bng0,” a new U.S.-based investment company backed by “large family offices with a global presence and long-term investment horizon” and formed specifically to invest in Editas. CEO Katrine Bosley confirmed that Gates is one of the individuals investing in Editas alongside Nikolic. Editas has become the first of the group not only to attract crossover backers, but to begin discussing the diseases that its targeting.

Caribou Biosciences, one of the biotech startups working to advance a much-watched new technology for precise gene editing, has raised an $11 million Series A round from venture capital firms and Swiss drug giant Novartis.

The money will help Berkeley, CA-based Caribou speed up its efforts to adapt a versatile genome editing technique co-discovered by one of its founders, UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna, for a range of uses, including drug research and development, and industrial technology.

Doudna and her collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany, and Umeå University in Sweden, figured out how to transform a bacterial defense against viral infection into a tool to edit out abnormal sections of genes, such as those that cause hereditary diseases.

Caribou’s gene editing platform is based on two elements of that bacterial molecular machinery: a guiding mechanism called CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced palindromic repeats), and an enzyme called Cas9, or CRISPR-associated protein 9, molecular scissors that cut a segment of DNA. Caribou was founded in 2011 to commercialize the work from Doudna’s lab.



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RNAi – On Transcription and Metabolic Control

Writer and Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP



This is the third contribution to a series on transcription and metabolic control. It reveals the enormous complexity in this emerging research.


mRNA, small RNAs, long RNAs, RNAi and DicAR

Aberrant mRNA translation in cancer pathogenesis
Pier Paolo Pandolfi
Oncogene (2004) 23, 3134–3137

As the molecular processes that control mRNA translation and ribosome biogenesis in the eukaryotic cell are extremely complex and multilayered, their deregulation can in principle occur at multiple levels, leading to both disease and cancer pathogenesis. For a long time, it was speculated that disruption of these processes may participate in tumorigenesis, but this notion was, until recently, solely supported by correlative studies. Strong genetic support is now being accrued, while new molecular links between tumor-suppressive and oncogenic pathways and the control of protein synthetic machinery are being unraveled. The importance of aberrant protein synthesis in tumorigenesis is further underscored by the discovery that compounds such as Rapamycin, known to modulate signaling pathways regulatory of this process, are effective anticancer drugs. A number of fundamental questions remain to be addressed and a number of novel ones emerge as this exciting field evolves.


mRNA Translation and Energy Metabolism in Cancer
I. Topisirovic and N. Sonenberg
Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, Volume LXXVI

A prominent feature of cancer cells is the use of aerobic glycolysis under conditions in which oxygen levels are sufficient to support energy production in the mitochondria (Jones and Thompson 2009; Cairns et al. 2010). This phenomenon, named the “Warburg effect,” after its discoverer Otto Warburg, is thought to fuel the biosynthetic requirements of the neoplastic growth (Warburg 1956; Koppenol et al. 2011) and has recently been acknowledged as one of the hallmarks of cancer (Hanahan and Weinberg 2011). mRNA translation is the most energy-demanding process in the cell (Buttgereit and Brand 1995).In mammalian cells it consumes >20% of cellular ATP, not considering the energy that is required for the biosynthesis of the components of the translational machinery (e.g., ribosome biogenesis; Buttgereit and Brand 1995). Control of mRNA translation plays a pivotal role in the regulation of gene expression (Sonenberg and Hinnebusch 2009). In fact, a recent study demonstrated that mammalian proteome is mostly governed at the mRNA translation level (Schwanhausser et al. 2011). Malfunction of mRNA translation critically contributes to human disease, including diabetes, heart disease, blood disorders, and, most notably, cancer (Fig. 1; Crozier et al. 2006; Narla and Ebert 2010; Silvera et al. 2010; Spriggs et al. 2010). The first account of changes in the translational apparatus in cancer dates back to 1896, showing enlarged and irregularly shaped nucleoli that are the site of ribosome biogenesis (Pianese 1896). Rapidly proliferating cancer cells have more ribosomes than normal cells.

Figure 1. Dysregulated mRNA translation plays a pivotal role in cancer. Malignant cells are characterized by enlarged nucleoli and a larger number of ribosomes than their normal counterparts. Mutations and/or altered expression of ribosomal proteins (e.g., RPS19, RPS 24), rRNA-modifying enzymes (e.g., dyskerin), translation initiation factors (e.g., eIF4E), or the initiator tRNA (tRNAiMet) result in malignant transformation. Signaling pathways whose dysfunction is frequent in cancer (e.g., MAPK, PI3K/AKT) affect mRNA translation. Perturbations in the translatome result in aberrant cellular growth, proliferation, and survival characteristic of tumorigenesis.


In stark contrast to normal cells, in cancer cells ribosomal biogenesis is uncoupled from cell proliferation (Stanners et al. 1979). Accordingly, cancer cells exhibit abnormally high rates of protein synthesis (Silvera et al. 2010). That ribosomal dysfunction plays a central role in cancer is further corroborated by the findings that genetic alterations, which encompass the components of the ribosome machinery (i.e., “ribosomopathies”), are characterized by elevated cancer risk (Narla and Ebert 2010).

mRNA translation is the most energy-consuming process in the cell and strongly correlates with cellular metabolic activity. Translation and energy metabolism play important roles in homeostatic cell growth and proliferation, and when dysregulated lead to cancer. eIF4E is a key regulator of translation, which promotes oncogenesis by selectively enhancing translation of a subset of tumor-promoting mRNAs (e.g., cyclins and c-myc). PI3K/AKT and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways, which are strongly implicated in cancer etiology, exert a number of their biological effects by modulating translation. The PI3K/AKT pathway regulates eIF4E function by inactivating the inhibitory 4E-BPs via mTORC1, whereas MAPKs activate MAP kinase signal-integrating kinases 1 and 2, which phosphorylate eIF4E. In addition, AMP-activated protein kinase, which is a central sensor of the cellular energy balance, impairs translation by inhibiting mTORC1. Thus, eIF4E plays a major role in mediating the effects of PI3K/AKT, MAPK, and cellular energetics on mRNA translation.Figure 2. eIF4E is regulated by multiple mechanisms. The expression of eIF4E is regulated by several transcription factors (e.g., c-myc, hnRNPK, p53) and adenine-uracil-rich element binding proteins (i.e., HuR and AUF1). eIF4E is suppressed by 4E-BPs, which are regulated by mTORC1. MAP kinase signal integrating kinases 1 and 2 (MNKs) phosphorylate eIF4E.


Figure 3. Ras/MAPK and PI3K/AKT/mTORC1 regulate the activity of eIF4E. Various stimuli activate phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) through the receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). Upon activation, PI3K converts phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) into phosphatidylinositol-3,4,5-triphosphate (PIP3). This reaction is reversed by PTEN. Phosphoinositide-dependent protein kinase 1 (PDK1) and AKT bind to PIP3 via their pleckstrin homology domains, which allows for the phosphorylation and activation of AKT by PDK1. In addition, the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 2 (mTORC2) modulates the activity of AKT by phosphorylating its hydrophobic motif. AKT phosphorylates tuberous sclerosis complex 2 (TSC2) at multiple sites, which results in its inhibition and consequent activation of Ras homolog enriched in brain (Rheb), which is a small GTPase that activates mTORC1. mTORC1 phosphorylates 4E-BPs leading to their dissociation from eIF4E. In addition to the PI3K/AKT pathway, the activity of mTORC1 is regulated by the serine/threonine kinase 11/LKB1/AMP-kinase (LKB1/AMPK) pathway, regulated in development and DNA damage response 1 (REDD1) and Rag GTPases in response to the changes in cellular energy balance, oxygen and amino acid availability, respectively. Ras and the MAPK pathways are activated by various stimuli through receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). In addition the MAPK pathway isactivatedthrough theGprotein–coupled receptors(GPCRs) and byproteinkinaseC (PKC;notshown).TheMAPK pathways encompass an initial GTPase-regulated kinase (MAPKKK), which activates an effector kinase (MAPK) via an intermediate kinase (MAPKK). In response to stimuli such as growth factors, hormones, and phorbol-esters, Ras GTPase stimulates Raf kinase (MAPKKK), which activates extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK 1 and 2) via extracellular signal-regulated kinase activator kinases MEK1 and 2 (MAPKK). Cellular stresses, including osmotic shock, inflammatory cytokines, and UV light, activate p38 MAPKs via multiple mechanisms including Rac kinase (MAPKKK) and MKK3 and 6 (MAPKK). p38 MAPK and ERK activate the MAPK signal–integrating kinases 1 and 2 (MNK1/2), which phosphorylate eIF4E. Additional abbreviations are provided in the text.


Cancer Exosomes Perform Cell-Independent MicroRNA Biogenesis and Promote Tumorigenesis
Cancer Cell Nov, 2014; 26: 707–721.

Breast cancer cells secrete exosomes with specific capacity for cell-independent miRNA biogenesis, while normal cellderivedexosomes lack thisability. Exosomes derivedfrom cancer cellsand serum frompatients withbreast cancer contain the RISC loading complex proteins, Dicer, TRBP, and AGO2, which process pre-miRNAs into mature miRNAs. Cancer exosomes alter the transcriptome of target cells in a Dicer-dependent manner, which stimulate nontumorigenic epithelial cells to form tumors.This study identifies a mechanism whereby cancer cells impart an oncogenic field effect by manipulating the surrounding cells via exosomes. Presence of Dicer in exosomes may serve as biomarker for detection of cancer.

Dicers at RISC. The Mechanism of RNAi

Marcel Tijsterman and Ronald H.A. Plasterk
Cell, Apr 2014; 117:1–4

Figure 1. Model for RNA Silencing in Drosophila In an ordered biochemical pathway, miRNAs (left panel) and siRNAs (right panel) are processed from double-stranded precursor molecules by Dcr-1and Dcr-2, respectively, and stay attached to Dicer-containing complexes, which assemble into RISC. The degree of complementarity between the RNA silencing molecule (in red) and its cognate target determines the fate of the mRNA: blocked translation or immediate destruction.

Argonaute2 Cleaves the Anti-Guide Strand of siRNA during RISC Activation
Cell 2005; 123:621-629
Dicing and slicing- The core machinery of the RNA interference pathway
Scott C Hammond
FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 5822–5829

Fig. 1. Domain organization of RNaseIII gene family. Three classes of RNaseIII genes are shown. The PAZ domain in Dm-Dicer-2 contains mutations in several residues required for RNA binding and may not be functional.

Fig. 2. Model for Dicer catalysis. The PAZ domain binds the 2 nt 30 overhang of a dsRNA terminus. The RNaseIII domains form a pseudo-dimer. Each domain hydrolyzes one strand of the substrate. The binding site of the dsRBD is not defined. The function of the helicase domain is not known.

Fig. 3. Biogenesis pathway of microRNAs. MicroRNA genes are transcribed by RNA polymerase II. The primary transcript is referred to as ‘‘primicroRNA’’. Drosha processing occurs in the nucleus. The resulting precursor, ‘‘pre-microRNA’’, is exported to the cytoplasm for Dicer processing. In a coordinated manner, the mature microRNA is transferred to RISC and unwound by a helicase. mRNA targets that duplex in the Slicer scissile site are cleaved and degraded, if the microRNA is loaded into an Ago2 RISC. Mismatched targets are translationally suppressed. All Ago family members are believed to function in translational suppression.

Fig. 4. Model for Slicer catalysis. The siRNA guide strand is bound at the 50 end by the PIWI domain and at the 30 end by the PAZ domain. The 50 phosphate is coordinated by conserved basic residues. mRNA targets are initially bound by the seed region of the siRNA and pairing is extended to the 30 end. The RNaseH fold hydrolyzes the target in a cation dependent manner. Slicer cleavage is measured from the 50 end of the siRNA. Product is released by an unknown mechanism and the enzyme recycles.



RNA interference (RNAi) is a biological process in which RNA molecules inhibit gene expression, typically by causing the destruction of specific mRNA molecules. Historically, it was known by other names, including co-suppression, post transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS), and quelling. Only after these apparently unrelated processes were fully understood did it become clear that they all described the RNAi phenomenon. Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on RNA interference in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which they published in 1998.


Two types of small ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules – microRNA (miRNA) and small interfering RNA (siRNA) – are central to RNA interference. RNAs are the direct products of genes, and these small RNAs can bind to other specific messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules and either increase or decrease their activity, for example by preventing an mRNA from producing a protein. RNA interference has an important role in defending cells against parasitic nucleotide sequences – viruses and transposons. It also influences development.


The RNAi pathway is found in many eukaryotes, including animals, and is initiated by the enzyme Dicer, which cleaves long double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules into short double stranded fragments of ~20 nucleotide siRNAs. Each siRNA is unwound into two single-stranded RNAs (ssRNAs), the passenger strand and the guide strand. The passenger strand is degraded and the guide strand is incorporated into the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC). The most well-studied outcome is post-transcriptional gene silencing, which occurs when the guide strand pairs with a complementary sequence in a messenger RNA molecule and induces cleavage by Argonaute, the catalytic component of the RISC complex. In some organisms, this process spreads systemically, despite the initially limited molar concentrations of siRNA.

The enzyme dicer trims double stranded RNA, to form small interfering RNA or microRNA. These processed RNAs are incorporated into the RNA-induced silencing.
MiRNA biogenesis and function. (A) The canonical miRNA biogenesis pathway is Drosha- and Dicer-dependent. It begins with RNA Pol II-mediated transcription..


Dicer Promotes Transcription Termination

Dicer Promotes Transcription Termination

Dicer Promotes Transcription Termination at Sites of Replication Stress to Maintain Genome Stability
Cell Oct 2014; 159(3): 572–583


18-13 miRNA- protein complex ap-chap-18-pp-42-728

18-13 miRNA- protein complex ap-chap-18-pp-42-728

18-13 miRNA- protein complex (a) Primary miRNA transcript Translation blocked Hydrogen bond (b) Generation and function of miRNAs Hairpin miRNA miRNA Dicer …



Identification and characterization of small RNAs involved in RNA silencing
FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 5830–5840

Fig. 1. Small RNA cloning procedure. Outline of the small RNA cloning procedure. RNA is dephosphorylated (step 1) for joining the 30 adapter by T4 RNA ligase 1 in the presence of ATP (step 2). The use of a chemically adenylated adapter and truncated form of T4 RNA ligase 2 (Rnl2) allows eliminating the dephosphorylation step (step 4). If the RNA was dephosphorylated, it is re-phosphorylated (step 3) prior to 50 adapter ligation with T4 RNA ligase 1 and ATP (step 5). After 50 adapter ligation, a standard reverse transcription is performed (step 6). Alternatively, after 30 adapter ligation, the RNA is used directly for reverse transcription simultaneously with 50 adaptor joining (step 7). In this case, the property of reverse transcriptase to add non-templated cytidine residues at the 50 end of synthesized DNA is used to facilitate template switch of the reverse transcriptase to the 30 guanosine residues of the 50 adapter (SMART technology, Invitrogen). Abbreviations: P and OH indicate phosphate and hydroxyl ends of the RNA; App indicates 50 chemically adenylated adapter; L, 30 blocking group; CIP, calf alkaline phosphatase and PNK, polynucleotide kinase.


Transcriptional regulatory functions of nuclear long noncoding RNAs
Trends in Genetics, Aug 2014; 30(8):348-356

Cis-acting lncRNAEnhancer-associated lncRNAIntergenic lncRNA


Promoter-associated lncRNA

Proximity transfer

Trans-acting lncRNA


Functional interactions among microRNAs and long noncoding RNAs
Sem Cell Dev Biol 2014; 34:9-14
Genome-wide application of RNAi to the discovery of potential drug targets
FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 5988–599

Fig. 1. Schematic representation of gene silencing by an shRNA-expression vector. The shRNA is processed by Dicer. The processed siRNA enters the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), where it targets mRNA for degradation.

Fig. 2. Schematic representation of a transcription system for production of siRNA

Fig. 3. (A) Schematic representation of the proposed siRNA-expression system. Three or four C to U or A to G mutations are introduced into the sense strand. (B) Schematic representation of the discovery of a novel gene using an siRNA library.


Imperfect centered miRNA binding sites are common and can mediate repression of target mRNAs
Martin et al. Genome Biology 2014, 15:R51





Table 1 Number of inferred targets for each miRNA tested

miRNA Probes Transcripts Genes
miR-10a 2,206 5,963 1,887
miR-10a-iso 1,648 1,468 4,211
miR-10b 1,588 3,940 1,365
miR-10b-iso 963 2,235 889
miR-17-5p 1,223 2,862 1,137
miR-17-5p-iso 1,656 3,731 1,461
miR-182 2,261 6,423 2,008
miR-182-iso 1,569 4,316 1,444
miR-23b 2,248 5,383 1,990
miR-27a 2,334 5,310 2,069

Probes: number of probes significantly enriched in pull-downs compared to controls (5% FDR). Transcripts: number of transcripts to which those probes map exactly. Genes: number of genes from which those transcripts originate

Figure 2 Biotin pull-downs identify bone fide miRNA targets. (A) Volcano plot showing the significance of the difference in expression between the miR-17-5p pull-down and the mock-transfected control, for all transcripts expressed in HEK293T cells. Both targets predicted by TargetScan or validated previously via luciferase assay were significantly enriched in the pull-down compared to the controls. (B) Results from luciferase assays on previously untested targets predicted using TargetScan and uncovered using the biotin pull-down. The plot indicates mean luciferase activity from either the empty plasmid or from pMIR containing a miRNA binding site in the 3′ UTR, relative to a negative control. Asterisks indicate a significant reduction in luciferase activity (one-sided t-test; P<0.05) and error bars the standard error of the mean over three replicates. (C-E) Targets identified through PAR-CLIP or through miRNA over-expression studies show greater enrichment in the pull-down. Cumulative distribution of log fold-change in the pull-down for transcripts identified as targets by the indicated miRNA over-expression study or not. Red, canonical transcripts found to be miR-17-5p targets in the indicated study (Table S5 in Additional file 1); black, all other canonical transcripts; p, one-sided P-value from Kolmogorov-Smirnov test for a difference in distributions. (F) To confirm that our results were dependent on RISC association, cells were transfected with either single or double-stranded synthetic miRNAs, then subjected to AGO2 immunoprecipitation. The biotin pull-down was performed in the AGO2-enriched and AGO2-depleted fractions. (G-H) Quantitative RT-PCR revealed that, with double-stranded (ds) miRNA (G), four out of five known targets were enriched relative to input mRNA (*P≤0.05, **P<0.01, ***P<0.001) in the AGO2-enriched but not in the AGO2-depleted fractions, but this enrichment was not seen for the cells transfected with a single-stranded (ss) miRNA (H). The numbers on the x-axis correspond to those in Figure 2F. Error bars represent the standard error of mean (sem).

Figure 5 IsomiRs and canonical miRNAs target many of the same transcripts.

Hammerhead ribozymes in therapeutic target discovery and validation
Drug Disc Today 2009; 14(15/16): 776-783

Figure 1. Features of hammerhead ribozymes. A generic diagram of a hammerhead ribozyme bound to its target substrate: NUH is the cleavage triplet on target sequence, stems I and III are sites of the specific interactions between ribozyme and target, stem II is the structural element connecting separate parts of the catalytic core. Arrows represent the cleavage site, numbering system according to Hertel et al. [60].

hammerhead ribozyme

hammerhead ribozyme


Figure 1  Schematic (A) and ribbon (B) diagrams depicting the crystal structure of the full-length hammerhead ribozyme. The sequence and secondary structure


TABLE 1 Typical examples of successful applications of hammerhead ribozymes. Most of the data are derived from [10] and [11], the others are expressly specified.

  • Growth factors, receptors, transduction elements
  • Oncogenes, protoncogenes, fusion genes
  • Apoptosis, survival factors, drug resistance
  • Transcription factors
  • Extracellular matrix, matrix modulating factors
  • Circulating factors
  • Viral genome, viral genes

Figure 2.Target–ribozyme interactions. (a) As cheme of ribozyme binding to full substrate. The calculated energy of this binding ensures the formation of a stable complex. At the denaturating temperature, Tm, will allow this complex to survive to biological conditions. Conversely, after cleavage, binding energies calculated on single, (b) and (c), ribozyme arms are very low and no longer stable. These properties will ensure both the efficient release of cleavage fragments and the prevention of binding to unrelated targets. RNAs complementary to one binding arm only will not be bound or cleaved by the hammerhead catalytic sequence.

Figure 3. ‘Chemical omics’ approach. According to this target discovery strategy: (1) a first round of ‘omic’ study (proteomic, genomic, metabolomic, …) will enable the discovery of a set of (2) putative markers. A series of hammerhead ribozymes will then be prepared in order to target each marker. (4) A second ‘omic’ study round will be performed on (3) knocked down samples obtained after ribozymes administration. (5) A new series of markers will then be produced. An expanding analytical process of this type may be further repeated. Finally, a robust bioinformatic algorithm will make it possible to connect the different markers and draw new hypothetical links and pathways.



ADAR Enzyme and miRNA Story
Sara Tomaselli, Barbara Bonamassa, Anna Alisi, et al.
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2013, 14, 22796-22816;

Adenosine deaminase acting on RNA (ADAR) enzymes convert adenosine (A) to inosine (I) in double-stranded (ds) RNAs. Since Inosine is read as Guanosine, the biological consequence of ADAR enzyme activity is an A/G conversion within RNA molecules. A-to-I editing events can occur on both coding and non-coding RNAs, including microRNAs (miRNAs), which are small regulatory RNAs of ~20–23 nucleotides that regulate several cell processes by annealing to target mRNAs and inhibiting their translation. Both miRNA precursors and mature miRNAs undergo A-to-I RNA editing, affecting the miRNA maturation process and activity. ADARs can also edit 3′ UTR of mRNAs, further increasing the interplay between mRNA targets and miRNAs. In this review, we provide a general overview of the ADAR enzymes and their mechanisms of action as well as miRNA processing and function. We then review the more recent findings about the impact of ADAR-mediated activity on the miRNA pathway in terms of biogenesis, target recognition, and gene expression regulation.

Figure 1. Structure of ADAR family proteins: ADAR1, ADAR2, and ADAR3. The ADAR enzymes contain a C-terminal conserved catalytic deaminase domain (DM), two or three dsRBDs in the N-terminal portion. ADAR1 full-length protein also contains a N-terminal Zα domain with a nuclear export signal (NES) and a Zβ domain, while ADAR3 has a  R-domain. A nuclear localization signal is also indicated.


Comprehensive modeling of microRNA targets predicts functional non-conserved and non-canonical sites
Doron Betel, Anjali Koppal, Phaedra Agius, Chris Sander, Christina Leslie
Genome Biology 2010, 11:R90

microRNAs are a class of small regulatory RNAs that are involved in post-transcriptional gene silencing. These small (approximately 22 nucleotide) single-strand RNAs guide a gene silencing complex to an mRNA by complementary base pairing, mostly at the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR). The association of the RNAinduced silencing complex (RISC) to the conjugate mRNA results in silencing the gene either by translational repression or by degradation of the mRNA. Reliable microRNA target prediction is an important and still unsolved computational challenge, hampered both by insufficient knowledge of microRNA biology as well as the limited number of experimentally validated targets.

mirSVR is a new machine learning method for ranking microRNA target sites by a down-regulation score. The algorithm trains a regression model on sequence and contextual features extracted from miRanda-predicted target sites. In a large-scale evaluation, miRanda-mirSVR is competitive with other target prediction methods in identifying target genes and predicting the extent of their downregulation at the mRNA or protein levels. Importantly, the method identifies a significant number of experimentally determined non-canonical and non-conserved sites.
Human RISC – MicroRNA Biogenesis and Posttranscriptional Gene Silencing
Cell 2005; 123:631-640
Development of microRNA therapeutics
Eva van Rooij & Sakari Kauppinen
EMBO Mol Med (2014) 6: 851–864

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play key regulatory roles in diverse biological processes and are frequently dysregulated in human diseases. Thus, miRNAs have emerged as a class of promising targets for therapeutic intervention. Here, we describe the current strategies for therapeutic modulation of miRNAs and provide an update on the development of miRNA-based therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.

Figure 1. miRNA biogenesis and modulation of miRNA activity by miRNA mimics and antimiR oligonucleotides. MiRNA genes are transcribed by RNA polymerase II from intergenic, intronic or polycistronic loci to long primary miRNA transcripts (pri-miRNAs) and processed in the nucleus by the Drosha–DGCR8 complex to approximately 70 nt pre-miRNA hairpin structures. The most common alternative miRNA biogenesis pathway involves short intronic hairpins, termed mirtrons, that are spliced and debranched to form pre-miRNA hairpins. Pre-miRNAs are exported into the cytoplasm and then cleaved by the Dicer–TRBP complex to imperfect miRNA: miRNA* duplexes about 22 nucleotides in length. In the cytoplasm, miRNA duplexes are incorporated into Argonaute-containing miRNA induced silencing complex (miRISC), followed by unwinding of the duplex and retention of the mature miRNA strand in miRISC, while the complementary strand is released and degraded. The mature miRNA functions as a guide molecule for miRISC by directing it to partially complementary sites in the target mRNAs, resulting in translational repression and/or mRNA degradation. Currently, two strategies are employed to modulate miRNA activity: restoring the function of a miRNA using double-stranded miRNA mimics, and inhibition of miRNA function using single-stranded anti-miR oligonucleotides.

Figure 2. Design of chemically modified miRNA modulators. (A) Structures of chemical modifications used in miRNA modulators. A number of different sugar modifications are used to increase the duplex melting temperature (Tm) of anti-miR oligonucleotides. The20-O-methyl(20-O-Me), 20-O-methoxyethyl(20-MOE )and 20-fluoro(20-F) nucleotides are modified at the 20 position of the sugar moiety, whereas locked nucleic acid (LNA) is a bicyclic RNA analogue in which the ribose is locked in a C30-endo conformation by introduction of a 20-O,40-C methylene bridge. To increase nuclease resistance and enhance the pharmacokinetic properties, most anti-miR oligonucleotides harbor phosphorothioate (PS) backbone linkages, in which sulfur replaces one of the non-bridging oxygen atoms in the phosphate group. In morpholino oligomers, a six-membered morpholine ring replaces the sugar moiety. Morpholinos are uncharged and exhibit a slight increase in binding affinity to their cognate miRNAs. PNA oligomers are uncharged oligonucleotide analogues, in which the sugar–phosphate backbone has been replaced by a peptide-like backbone consisting of N-(2-aminoethyl)-glycine units. (B) An example of a synthetic double-stranded miRNA mimic described in this review. One way to therapeutically mimic a miRNA is by using synthetic RNA duplexes that harbor chemical modifications for improved stability and cellular uptake. In such constructs, the antisense (guide) strand is identical to the miRNA of interest, while the sense (passenger) strand is modified and can be linked to a molecule, such as cholesterol, for enhanced cellular uptake. The sense strand contains chemical modifications to prevent mi-RISC loading. Several mismatches can be introduced to prevent this strand from functioning as an anti-miR, while it is further left unmodified to ensure rapid degradation.The20-F modification helps to protect the antisense strand against exonucleases, hence making the guide strand more stable, while it does not interfere with mi-RISC loading. (C) Design of chemically modified anti-miR oligonucleotides described in this review. Antagomirs are30 cholesterol-conjugated,20-O-Me oligonucleotides fully complementary to the mature miRNA sequence with several PS moieties to increase their in vivo stability. The use of unconjugated 20-F/MOE-, 20-MOE- or LNA-modified anti-miR oligonucleotides harboring a complete PS backbone represents another approach for inhibition of miRNA function in vivo. The high duplex melting temperature of LNA-modified oligonucleotides allows efficient miRNA inhibition using truncated, high-affinity 15–16-nucleotide LNA/DNA anti-miR oligonucleotides targeting the 50 region of the mature miRNA. Furthermore, the high binding affinity of fully LNA-modified 8-mer PS oligonucleotides, designated as tiny LNAs, facilitates simultaneous inhibition of entire miRNA seed families by targeting the shared seed sequence.

Human MicroRNA Targets
Bino John, Anton J. Enright, Alexei Aravin, Thomas Tuschl,.., Debora S. Mark
PLoS Biol 2004; 2(11): e363

More than ten years after the discovery of the first miRNA gene, lin-4 (Chalfie et al. 1981; Lee et al. 1993), we know that miRNA genes constitute about 1%–2% of the known genes in eukaryotes. Investigation of miRNA expression combined with genetic and molecular studies in Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila melanogaster, and Arabidopsis thaliana have identified the biological functions of several miRNAs (recent review, Bartel 2004). In C. elegans, lin-4 and let-7 were first discovered as key regulators of developmental timing in early larval developmental transitions (Ambros 2000; Abrahante et al. 2003; Lin et al. 2003; Vella et al. 2004). More recently lsy-6 was shown to determine the left–right asymmetry of chemoreceptor expression (Johnston and Hobert 2003). In D. melanogaster, miR-14 has a role in apoptosis and fat metabolism (Xu et al. 2003) and the bantam miRNA targets the gene hid involved in apoptosis and growth control (Brennecke et al. 2003).

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) interact with target mRNAs at specific sites to induce cleavage of the message or inhibit translation. The specific function of most mammalian miRNAs is unknown. We have predicted target sites on the 39 untranslated regions of human gene transcripts for all currently known 218 mammalian miRNAs to facilitate focused experiments. We report about 2,000 human genes with miRNA target sites conserved in mammals and about 250 human genes conserved as targets between mammals and fish. The prediction algorithm optimizes sequence complementarity using position-specific rules and relies on strict requirements of interspecies conservation. Experimental support for the validity of the method comes from known targets and from strong enrichment of predicted targets in mRNAs associated with the fragile X mental retardation protein in mammals. This is consistent with the hypothesis that miRNAs act as sequence-specific adaptors in the interaction of ribonuclear particles with translationally regulated messages. Overrepresented groups of targets include mRNAs coding for transcription factors, components of the miRNA machinery, and other proteins involved in translational regulation, as well as components of the ubiquitin machinery, representing novel feedback loops in gene regulation. Detailed information about target genes, target processes, and open-source software for target prediction (miRanda) is available at Our analysis suggests that miRNA genes, which are about 1% of all human genes, regulate protein production for 10% or more of all human genes.

Figure 1. Target Prediction Pipeline for miRNA Targets in Vertebrates The mammalian (human, mouse, and rat) and fish (zebra and fugu) 39 UTRs were first scanned for miRNA target sites using position specific rules of sequence complementarity. Next, aligned UTRs of orthologous genes were used to check for conservation of miRNA– target relationships (‘‘target conservation’’) between mammalian genomes and, separately, between fish genomes. The main results (bottom) are the conserved mammalian and conserved fish targets, for each miRNA,as well as a smaller set of super-conserved vertebrate targets.
Figure 2. Distribution of Transcripts with Cooperativity of Target Sites and Estimated Number of False Positives Each bar reflects the number of human transcripts with a given number of target sites on their UTR. Estimated rate of false positives(e.g., 39%for2 targets) is given by the number of target sites predicted using shuffled miRNAs processed in a way identical to real miRNAs, including the use of interspecies conservation filter.

Conserved Seed Pairing, Often improved an-Flanked by Adenosines, Indicates Thousands of Human Genes are MicroRNA Targets
Cell, Jan 2005; 120: 15–20

Integrated analysis of microRNA and mRNA expression. adding biological significance to microRNA target predictions.
Maarten van Iterson, Sander Bervoets, Emile J. de Meijer, et al.
Nucleic Acids Research, 2013; 41(15), e146

Current microRNA target predictions are based on sequence information and empirically derived rules but do not make use of the expression of microRNAs and their targets. This study aimed to improve microRNA target predictions in a given biological context, using in silico predictions, microRNA and mRNA expression. We used target prediction tools to produce lists of predicted targets and used a gene set test designed to detect consistent effects of microRNAs on the joint expression of multiple targets. In a single test, association between microRNA expression and target gene set expression as well as the contribution of the individual target genes on the association are determined. The strongest negatively associated mRNAs as measured by the test were prioritized. We applied our integration method to a well-defined muscle differentiation model. Validation of our predictions in C2C12 cells confirmed predicted targets of known as well as novel muscle-related microRNAs. We further studied associations between microRNA–mRNA pairs in human prostate cancer, finding some pairs that have been recently experimentally validated by others. Using the same study, we showed the advantages of the global test over Pearson correlation and lasso. We conclude that our integrated approach successfully identifies regulated microRNAs and their targets.

Long non-coding RNA and microRNAs might act in regulating the expression of BARD1 mRNAs
Int J Biol & Cell Biol 2014; 54:356-367


Passenger-Strand Cleavage Facilitates Assembly of siRNA into Ago2-Containing RNAi Enzyme Complexes
Cell 2006; 123:607-620


RNAi- RISC Gets Loaded
Cell 2005; 123:543-553
RNAi- The Nuts and Bolts of the RISC Machine
Cell 2005; 122:17-20
Structural domains in RNAi
FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 5841–5849

Fig. 1. A ‘‘Domain-centric’’ view of RNAi. (A) The conserved pathways of RNA silencing. The domain structure of each protein in (hypothetical) interaction with its RNA is shown. For clarity, the second column lists domains in order N- to C-terminal. Figures are not to scale. In brief, Drosha, an RNase III enzyme, and its obligate binding partner, Pasha recognize pri-mRNA loops, and cut these into 70 nt hairpin pre-miRNAs. Dicer utilizes a PAZ domain to sense the 30 2-nt overhang created, and further processes these, and dsRNAs into miRNAs and siRNAs. Argonaute binds the 50 end of guide RNAs via its PIWI domain, and the 30 end via a PAZ domain, yielding RISCs that effect RNA silencing through several mechanisms. A Viral protein, VP19 can suppress RNA silencing by sequestering siRNAs. (B) A summary of known siRNA structural biology. Listed by domain are solved structures, their protein/organism of origin, and ligands, where applicable. Also shown are PDB codes.

Fig. 2. Novel modes of RNA recognition. (A) A typical dsRBD: Xenopus binding protein A (1DI2). A RNA helix is modeled pink, and the protein is rendered in transparent electrostatic contours (blue is basic, red acidic). Note the interaction of helices along the major groove, and the position of helix 1. A second dsRBD protein is visible, in the lower right. (B) A dsRBD, Saccharomyces Rnt1P (1T4L), recognizes hairpin loops. A novel third helix (top) pushes helix one into the loop of a hairpin RNA. (C) 30-OH recognition by PAZ. Human Eif2c1 (1SI3) bound to RNA (pink) is shown. PAZ is green, with transparent electrostatic surface plot. The OB-fold (nucleotide binding fold) and the insertion domain are labeled. Note the glove-and-thumb like cleft they form, that the 30-OH is inserted into. A basic groove (blue) the RNA binds along outside the cleft is visible. (D) A close-up view of PAZ, as in C (surface not-transparent, slightly rotated). See white arrows for orientation, and location of 30-OH binding site. RNA is shown red in sticks. The terminal –OH is barely visible, buried in a cleft. It and the carbon it bonds have been colored yellow for clarity. (E) The PIWI domain (2BGG). Note the insertion of the 50P red (labeled) into the binding site. Its complimentary strand (pink) is not annealed to it, and the 30 overhang and first complimentary bases sit on the protein surface. (F) An enlarged view of (E), with protein in slate and RNA modeled as red sticks. The coordinated magnesium is a grey sphere, which is coordinated by the terminal carboxylate of the protein, protein side chains, and RNA phosphate oxygens. The 50 base stacks against a conserved Tyr. Several other sidechain contacts are shown.

Fig. 3. Argonaute/RISC. (A) P. furiosus Argonaute (PDB 1Z26). A color-guided key to the domains is presented. PAZ sits over the PIWI/N/MID bowl and active site. The liganding atoms for the catalytic metal are depicted as yellow balls for clarity. The tungstate binding site (50P surrogate) is shown as tan spheres. (B) A guide strand channel. Looking down from the PAZ domain towards the active site, Z-sections are clipped off. Colors of domains are as in the key in (A). Wrapping down along a basic cleft from the PAZ 30OH binding site (approximate position labeled), a RNA binding groove passes the active site (yellow), and runs down to the 50P binding site (tan balls). A second cleft running perpendicular to this one at its entry may accommodate target strand RNA. For more detail, and models of siRNA placed into the grooves, see [27,29].

Fig. 4. VP19 sequestration of siRNA. (A) CIRV VP19 (1RPU, RNA removed). Two monomers (blue and cyan) form an 8 strand, concave b-sheet with bracketing helices at the ends. (B) Tombus viral VP19 bound to siRNA (1 monomer shown). RNA strands are modeled as sticks, with one strand pink and one red. The bracketing helix places two tryptophans in position to stack over the terminal RNA bases. On the b-sheet surface, and Arg and a Lys interact with the phosphate backbone, and at the center of the RNA binding surface, a number of Ser and Thr mediate an extensive hydrogen bond network. Both the Trp brackets and RNA binding by an extended b-sheet are unique.


Small RNA asymmetry in RNAi- Function in RISC assembly and gene regulation
FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 5850–5857


The role of the oncofetal IGF2 mRNA-binding protein 3 (IGF2BP3) in cancer
Seminars in Cancer Biol 2014; 29:3-12

Table 1 – Target mRNAs of IGF2BP3.

Target cis-Element Regulation
CD44 3’ -utr Control of mRNA stability
IGF2 5’ -utr Translational control
H19 ncRNA Unknown
ACTB 3’ -utr Unknown
MYC CRD Unknown
CD164 Unknown Control of mRNA stability
MMP9 Unknown Control of mRNA stability
ABCG2 Unknown Unknown
PDPN 3’ -utr Control of mRNA stability
HMGA2 3’ -utr Protection from miR directed degradation
CCND1 3’ -utr translational control
CCND3 3’ -utr translational control
CCNG1 3’ -utr translationalcontrol


Targeting glucose uptake with siRNA-based nanomedicine for cancer therapy
Biomaterials 2015; 51:1-11
The therapeutic potential of RNA interference
FEBS Letters 579 (2005) 5996–6007

Table 1 Companies developing RNAi therapeutics that includes cancer

Company name Primary areas of interest
Atugen AG Metabolic disease; cancer ocular disease; skin disease
Benitec Australia Limited Hepatitis C virus; HIV/AIDS; cancer; diabetes/obesity
Calando Pharmaceuticals Nanoparticle technology
Genta Incorporated Cancer
Intradigm Corporation Cancer; SARS; arthritis
Sirna Therapeutics, Inc. AMD; Hepatitis C virus; asthma; diabetes; cancer; Huntington s disease; hearing loss


The Noncoding RNA Revolution—Trashing Old Rules to Forge New Ones
Cell 2014; 157:77-94

Figure 1. Noncoding RNAs Function in Diverse Contexts Noncoding RNAs function in all domains of life, regulating gene expression from transcription to splicing to translation and contributing to genome organization and stability. Self-splicing RNAs, ribosomes, and riboswitches function in both eukaryotes and bacteria. Archaea (not shown) also utilize ncRNA systems including ribosomes, riboswitches, snoRNPs, and CRISPR. Orange strands, ncRNA performing the action indicated; red strands, the RNA acted upon by the ncRNA. Blue strands, DNA. Triangle, small-molecule metabolite bound by a riboswitch. Ovals indicate protein components of an RNP, such as the spliceosome (white oval), ribosome (two purple subunits), or other RNPs (yellow ovals). Because of the importance of RNA structure in these ncRNAs, some structures are shown but they are not meant to be realistic.


miRNAs and cancer targeting

Table 1 of targets

miRNA Cancer type reference
NA GI cancer Current status of miRNA-targeting therapeutics and preclinical studies against gastroenterological carcinoma
NA Renal cell Differential expression profiling of microRNAs and their potential involvement in renal cell carcinoma pathogenesis
NA urothelial
A microRNA expression ratio defining the invasive phenotype in bladder tumors
miR-31 breast A Pleiotropically Acting MicroRNA, miR-31, inhibits breast cancer growth
miR-512-3p NSCLC Inhibition of RAC1-GEF DOCK3 by miR-512-3p contributes to suppression of metastasis in non-small cell lung cancer
miR-495 gastric Methylation-associated silencing of miR-495 inhibit the migration and invasion of human gastric cancer cells
microRNA-218 prostate microRNA-218 inhibits prostate cancer cell growth and promotes apoptosis by repressing TPD52 expression
MicroRNA-373 cervical cancer MicroRNA-373 functions as an oncogene and targets YOD1 gene in cervical cancer
miR-25 NSCLC miR-25 modulates NSCLC cell radio-sensitivity – inhibiting BTG2 expression
miR-92a cervical cancer miR-92a. upregulated in cervical cancer & promotes cell proliferation and invasion by targeting FBXW7
MiR-153 NSCLC MiR-153 inhibits migration and invasion of human non-small-cell lung cancer by targeting ADAM19
miR-203 melanoma miR-203 inhibits melanoma invasive and proliferative abilities by targeting the polycomb group gene BMI1
miR-204-5p Papillary thyroid miR-204-5p suppresses cell proliferation by inhibiting IGFBP5 in papillary thyroid carcinoma
miR-342-3p Hepato-cellular miR-342-3p affects hepatocellular carcinoma cell proliferation via regulating NF-κB pathway
miR-1271 NSCLC miR-1271 promotes non-small-cell lung cancer cell proliferation and invasion via targeting HOXA5
miR-203 pancreas Pancreatic cancer derived exosomes regulate the expression of TLR4 in dendritic cells via miR-203
miR-203 metastatic SCC Rewiring of an Epithelial Differentiation Factor, miR-203, to Inhibit Human SCC Metastasis
miR-204 RCC TRPM3 and miR-204 Establish a Regulatory Circuit that Controls Oncogenic Autophagy in Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma
NA urologic MicroRNAs and cancer. Current and future perspectives in urologic oncology
NA RCC MicroRNAs and their target gene networks in renal cell carcinoma
NA osteoSA MicroRNAs in osteosarcoma
NA urologic MicroRNA in Prostate, Bladder, and Kidney Cancer
NA urologic Micro-RNA profiling in kidney and bladder cancers


Current status of miRNA-targeting therapeutics and preclinical studies against gastroenterological carcinoma
Shibata et al. Molecular and Cellular Therapies 2013, 1:5

Differential expression profiling of microRNAs and their potential involvement in renal cell carcinoma pathogenesis
Clinical Biochemistry 43 (2010) 150–158

A microRNA expression ratio defining the invasive phenotype in bladder tumors
Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations 28 (2010) 39–48

A Pleiotropically Acting MicroRNA, miR-31, inhibits breast cancer growth
Cell 137, 1032–1046, June 12, 2009

Inhibition of RAC1-GEF DOCK3 by miR-512-3p contributes to suppression of metastasis in non-small cell lung cancer
Intl JBiochem & Cell Biol 2015; 61:103-114

Methylation-associated silencing of miR-495 inhibit the migration and invasion of human gastric cancer cells by directly targeting PRL-3
Biochem Biochem Res Commun 2014; 456:344-350

microRNA-218 inhibits prostate cancer cell growth and promotes apoptosis by repressing TPD52 expression
Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2015; 456:804-809

MicroRNA-373 functions as an oncogene and targets YOD1 gene in cervical cancer
BBRC 2015; xx:1-6

miR-25 modulates NSCLC cell radio-sensitivity – inhibiting BTG2 expression
BBRC 2015; 457:235-241

miR-92a. upregulated in cervical cancer & promotes cell proliferation and invasion by targeting FBXW7
BBRC 2015; 458:63-69

MiR-153 inhibits migration and invasion of human non-small-cell lung cancer by targeting ADAM19
BBRC 2015; 456:381-385

miR-203 inhibits melanoma invasive and proliferative abilities by targeting the polycomb group gene BMI1
BBMC 2015; 456: 361-366

miR-204-5p suppresses cell proliferation by inhibiting IGFBP5 in papillary thyroid carcinoma
BBRC 2015; 457:621-627

miR-342-3p affects hepatocellular carcinoma cell proliferation via regulating NF-κB pathway
BBRC 2015; 457:370-377

miR-1271 promotes non-small-cell lung cancer cell proliferation and invasion via targeting HOXA5
BBRC 2015; 458:714-719

Pancreatic cancer derived exosomes regulate the expression of TLR4 in dendritic cells via miR-203
Cell Immunol 2014; 292:65-69

Rewiring of an Epithelial Differentiation Factor, miR-203, to Inhibit Human Squamous Cell Carcinoma Metastasis
Cell Reports 2014; 9:104-117

TRPM3 and miR-204 Establish a Regulatory Circuit that Controls Oncogenic Autophagy in Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma
Cancer Cell Nov 10, 2014; 26: 738–753

MicroRNA in Prostate, Bladder, and Kidney Cancer
Eur Urol 2011; 59:671-681

Micro-RNA profiling in kidney and bladder cancers
Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations 2007; 25:387–392

MicroRNAs and cancer. Current and future perspectives in urologic oncology
Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations 2010; 28:4–13

MicroRNAs and their target gene networks in renal cell carcinoma
BBRC 2011; 405:153-156

MicroRNAs in osteosarcoma
Clin Chim Acta 2015; 444:9-17


Table 2. miRNA cancer therapeutics



  • miRNA and mRNA cancer signatures determined by analysis of expression levels in large cohorts of patients
    | PNAS | Nov 19, 2013; 110(47): 19160–19165 study of mRNA and microRNA (miRNA) expression profiles of cells and tissue has become a major tool for therapeutic development. The results of such experiments are expected to change the methods used in the diagnosis and prognosis of disease. We introduce surprisal analysis, an information-theoretic approach grounded in thermodynamics, to compactly transform the information acquired from microarray studies into applicable knowledge about the cancer phenotypic state. The analysis of mRNA and miRNA expression data from ovarian serous carcinoma, prostate adenocarcinoma, breast invasive carcinoma, and lung adenocarcinoma cancer patients and organ specific control patients identifies cancer-specific signatures. We experimentally examine these signatures and their respective networks as possible therapeutic targets for cancer in single cell experiments.



RNA editing is vital to provide the RNA and protein complexity to regulate the gene expression. Correct RNA editing maintains the cell function and organism development. Imbalance of the RNA editing machinery may lead to diseases and cancers. Recently,RNA editing has been recognized as a target for drug discovery although few studies targeting RNA editing for disease and cancer therapy were reported in the field of natural products. Therefore, RNA  editing may be a potential target for therapeutic natural products


Aberrant microRNA (miRNA) expression is implicated in tumorigenesis. The underlying mechanisms are unclear because the regulations of each miRNA on potentially hundreds of mRNAs are sample specific.


We describe a novel approach to infer Probabilistic Mi RNA–mRNA  Interaction Signature (‘ProMISe’) from a single pair of miRNA–mRNA expression profile. Our model considers mRNA and miRNA competition as a probabilistic function of the expressed seeds (matches). To demonstrate ProMISe, we extensively exploited The Cancer Genome Atlas data. As a target predictor, ProMISe identifies more confidence/validated targets than other methods. Importantly, ProMISe confers higher cancer diagnostic power than using expression profiles alone.

Gene set enrichment analysis on averaged ProMISe uniquely revealed respective target enrichments of oncomirs miR-21 and 145 in glioblastoma and ovarian cancers. Moreover, comparing matched breast (BRCA) and thyroid (THCA) tumor/normal samples uncovered thousands of tumor-related interactions. For example, ProMISe– BRCA network involves miR-155/183/21, which exhibits higher ProMISe coupled with coherently higher miRNA expression and lower target expression; oncomirs miR-221/222 in the ProMISe–THCA network engage with many downregulated target genes. Together, our probabilistic approach of integrating expression and sequence scores establishes a functional link between the aberrant miRNA and mRNA expression, which was previously under-appreciated due to the methodological differences.





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Preface to Metabolomics as a Discipline in Medicine

Author: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


The family of ‘omics fields has rapidly outpaced its siblings over the decade since
the completion of the Human Genome Project.  It has derived much benefit from
the development of Proteomics, which has recently completed a first draft of the
human proteome.  Since genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics, have matured
considerably, it has become apparent that the search for a driver or drivers of cellular signaling and metabolic pathways could not depend on a full clarity of the genome. There have been unresolved issues, that are not solely comprehended from assumptions about mutations.

The most common diseases affecting mankind are derangements in metabolic
pathways, develop at specific ages periods, and often in adulthood or in the
geriatric period, and are at the intersection of signaling pathways.  Moreover,
the organs involved and systemic features are heavily influenced by physical
activity, and by the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The emergence of the new science is also driven by a large body of work
on protein structure, mechanisms of enzyme action, the modulation of gene
expression, the pH dependent effects on protein binding and conformation.
Beyond what has just been said, a significant portion of DNA has been
designated as “dark matter”. It turns out to have enormous importance in
gene regulation, even though it is not transcriptional, effected in a
modulatory way by “noncoding RNAs.  Metabolomics is the comprehensive
analysis of small molecule metabolites. These might be substrates of
sequenced enzyme reactions, or they might be “inhibiting” RNAs just
mentioned.  In either case, they occur in the substructures of the cell
called organelles, the cytoplasm, and in the cytoskeleton.

The reactions are orchestrated, and they can be modified with respect to
the flow of metabolites based on pH, temperature, membrane structural
modifications, and modulators.  Since most metabolites are generated by
enzymatic proteins that result from gene expression, and metabolites give
organisms their biochemical characteristics, the metabolome links
genotype with phenotype.

Metabolomics is still developing, and the continued development has
relied on two major events. The first is chromatographic separation and
mass  spectroscopy (MS), MS/MS, as well as advances in fluorescence
ultrasensitive optical photonic methods, and the second, as crucial,
is the developments in computational biology. The continuation of
this trend brings expectations of an impact on pharmaceutical and
on neutraceutical developments, which will have an impact on medical
practice. What has lagged behind, and may continue to contribute to the
lag is the failure to develop a suitable electronic medical record to
assist the physician in decisions confronted with so much as yet,
hidden data, the ready availability of which could guide more effective
diagnosis and management of the patient. Put all of this together, and
we can meet series challenges as the research community
interprets and integrates the complex data they are acquiring.


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What is the meaning of so many RNAs?

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


The following is a third in the 2nd series that is focused on the topic of the impact of genomics and transcriptomics in the evolution of 21st century of medicine, We have already visited the transcription process, by which an RNA sequence is read.  This is essential for protein synthesis through the ordering of the amino acids in the primary structure. However, there are microRNAs and noncoding RNAs, and there are transcription factors.  The transcription factors bind to chromatin, and the RNAs also have some role in regulating the transcription process. We shall examine this further.

  • RNA and the transcription the genetic code

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Writer and Curator

  • The role and importance of transcription factors?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Writer and Curator

  • What is the meaning of so many RNAs?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Writer and Curator

  • Pathology Emergence in the 21st Century

Larry Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Author and Curator

  • The Arnold Relman Challenge: US HealthCare Costs vs US HealthCare Outcomes

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reviewer and Curator; and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN, Curator

Exploring the Roles of Enhancer RNAs Scientists have recently discovered that enhancers are often transcribed into RNAs. But they’re still not sure what, if anything, these eRNAs do.

By Ashley P. Taylor | May 7, 2014

Four mechanisms by which eRNAs can function

Four mechanisms by which eRNAs can function

Four mechanisms by which eRNAs can function Wikimedia, PClermont There’s a lot that scientists don’t yet know about enhancers, genetic elements first described almost 35 years ago that, unlike promoters,

  • can upregulate genes from some distance.

That distance, while generally under 100 kilobases, can vary greatly. Usually,

  • enhancers regulate the genes closest to them,

but not always; the enhancer for the developmental gene Sonic hedgehog is a megabase away from its promoter in the human genome. What scientists do know is that enhancers seem to play key roles in human biology. One recently published atlas of enhancer expression in the human genome suggested that

  • enhancers, which are expressed differently across cell types,

could help explain how one genome encodes so many different kinds of cells. The same paper reported that

  • single-nucleotide changes associated with human diseases are
  • over-represented in enhancers and promoters relative to exons.

In a 2010 Nature paper, researchers in the lab of neurobiologist Michael Greenberg at Harvard Medical School reported that enhancers can produce RNA. Working with cultured mouse neurons, the scientists found that

  • enhancers activated by neuron depolarization were transcribed all over the genome
  • and that levels of enhancer RNAs (eRNAs)
  • correlated with the production of messenger RNA (mRNA)
  • from genes near the enhancers.

Researchers had observed enhancer RNAs before, but this was the first evidence of widespread enhancer transcription. In the years since, several other groups have reported finding eRNAs in various biological systems. While eRNAs promise to help researchers understand how enhancers work, they also raise many questions of their own. ERNAs are fairly short, ranging in length from 500 basepairs to 5 kilobases. Most of the time, although not always,

  • enhancer RNAs are transcribed from both DNA strands, producing what are called bidirectional transcripts.

As the Greenberg lab originally found,

  • eRNA production correlates with the production of mRNA from the genes that enhancers regulate.

“Perhaps the best mark of an active enhancer is the induction of an enhancer RNA,” said M. Geoffrey Rosenfeld from the University of California, San Diego, whose group studies genome-wide regulation of gene expression and has been probing eRNA function. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, he warned. “The next question is whether the enhancer RNA is just a mark of an active enhancer or if it could have function, per se.” What might those functions be? Scientists have crafted a few hypotheses, although most agree that the mechanisms by which eRNAs function remain a mystery. One thought is that eRNAs represent transcriptional noise. That’s a view held by Albin Sandelin at the Bioinformatics Centre of Copenhagen University, who led the aforementioned enhancer atlas project. “Something that most people believe is that the enhancer, when it’s active, it loops in to the promoter, and then the concentration of RNA polymerase II will be a lot higher,” Sandelin told The Scientist. He referred to the idea that

  • enhancers upregulate genes by physically interacting with target promoters;
  • as enhancers and the promoters they regulate are usually on the same chromosome,
  • this interaction creates a loop of DNA between the two genetic elements.

“I think that most of the eRNAs are due to this: you have piece of open DNA, which is the enhancer, near a promoter with high concentrations of RNA polymerase II, and

  • then you will get transcription of the enhancer.”

This idea is supported by the fact that, because they are so short, eRNAs tend to degrade rather quickly. “There are a few cases where [enhancer RNAs] are proven to be functional; I just personally don’t think that the majority work that way,” Sandelin said. “[But] it seems to me that this [supposed function] is a byproduct of proximity to some sites that have a lot of polymerase II.” Another hypothesis suggests that

  • the act of transcription trumps the importance of the transcripts themselves.

Experiments in macrophages, led by the University of California, San Diego’s Chris Glass, support this idea. “I don’t think that transcription at enhancers is noise,” said Vittorio Sartorelli, a researcher at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) who has studied eRNAs in the context of myogenesis. “Whether eRNAs are absolutely required in every situation or the act of transcription at enhancers is the major determinant, I think that it’s still open for debate,” he said. Several studies have presented evidence to suggest that eRNAs do play a key role. As described in a 2013 Nature paper, the Rosenfeld lab found that estrogen bound to its receptor in breast cancer cells increases expression of particular genes by binding to enhancers and inducing the transcription of eRNAs. Eliminating the eRNAs using both RNA interference (RNAi) and antisense oligonucleotides—

  • which bind to the RNA and lead to its degradation by an RNase—
  • reduced the ability of enhancers to upregulate gene expression.

Depletion of eRNAs in this system also

  • reduced looping between enhancers and promoters.

“Using two different strategies, there [was] evidence that

  • the presence of the interrogated eRNA is important for activation of the target gene
  • and for the interaction between the enhancer and the cognate regulated promoter,” said Rosenfeld.

Taking the reverse approach, the researchers also tested whether eRNAs could upregulate transcription independent of the enhancer itself. Rosenfeld and his colleagues experimentally

  • tethered eRNAs to a promoter driving expression of a luciferase reporter gene in a plasmid construct. When this construct was
  • transfected into cultured breast cancer cells,
    • luciferase expression was upregulated about 2.5-fold.

“These data indicate that

  • the interrogated eRNA plays a functional role, at least in this system,
  • in activation of the coding target gene,”

said Rosenfeld. “But it does not distinguish between the alternative possibilities that this is because of a specific sequence in the eRNA that might interact with a regulatory factor or that some other function of the eRNA …” Scientists, such as Reuven Agami from the Netherlands Cancer Institute, the NIAMS’s Sartorelli, and San Diego’s Glass, have reported similar results in other systems. Greenberg said that some eRNAs could have functions unrelated to the promoters activated by their associated enhancers while others could play direct roles in gene expression. “I think that we need to keep an open mind as to what the functions are; there are likely to be multiple functions.” Tags: transcriptional       regulationtranscriptionRNAipromotersmRNAEnhancers and DNA   SiRNA-Mediated Down-Regulation of Livin Expression in Breast Cancer Cells Hussein Sabit, Mohamed M.M. Ibrahim and Nabil S. Awad 1College of Biotechnology, Misr University for Science and Technology, Egypt 2Scientific Research Deanship, Taif University, KSA Academic Journal of Cancer Research 6 (2): 69-73, 2013   Livin, also called melanoma inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP) or kidney IAP, is an anti-apoptotic protein belonging to the IAP family which consists of eight members. The genes of this family render cancer cells insensitive to apoptotic stimulation. The aim of the present study was to investigate and assess the role of siRNA

  • in the regulation of livin gene expression in two breast cancer cell lines (4Ti and MCF-7).

Lipofection was carried out to introduce the livin-specific small interference RNA (siRNA) segment (19 mer) into the cancerous cells and the livin expression was determined using RT-PCR. Trypan blue assay was conducted to assess the integrity of the cell membranes after being transfected. 3-(4, 5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2-5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay was also implemented to assess the cell viability through the mitochondrial reductase enzymes activity. The obtained results concluded that

  • transfecting the cancerous cells with livin-specific siRNA have
  • led to the down regulation of livin expression.

RNA interference (RNAi) targeting the anti-apoptotic genes such as livin is a promising approach and may help as a future therapeutic tool for breast cancer. Key words: SiRNA Livin Down-regulation Breast cancer     Endogenous RNA interference is driven by copy number Cristina Cruz, Jonathan Houseley* Epigenetics Programme, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom Cell biology | Genomics and evolutionary biology cruz and Houseley. eLife 2014;3:e01581   A plethora of non-protein coding RNAs are produced throughout eukaryotic genomes, many of which are transcribed antisense to protein-coding genes and could potentially instigate

  • RNA interference (RNAi) responses.

Here we have used a synthetic RNAi system to show that

  • gene copy number is a key factor controlling RNAi for transcripts from endogenous loci,

since transcripts from multi-copy loci form double stranded RNA more efficiently than transcripts from equivalently expressed single-copy loci.

  • Selectivity towards transcripts from high-copy DNA

is therefore an emergent property of a minimal RNAi system. The ability of RNAi to

  • selectively degrade transcripts from high-copy loci
  • would allow suppression of newly emerging transposable elements,

but such a surveillance system requires transcription. We show that

  • low-level genome-wide pervasive transcription
  • is sufficient to instigate RNAi, and propose that
  • pervasive transcription is part of a defense mechanism capable of directing a
  • sequence-independent RNAi response against
  • transposable elements amplifying within the genome.     Over the past decade, our understanding of the complexity of the eukaryotic transcriptome has been revolutionized. Genome-wide sequencing studies in many organisms have revealed that protein-coding mRNAs are augmented by a multitude of non-protein coding RNAs (ncRNAs), many produced from regions of the genome traditionally considered to be transcriptionally silent (Brummelkamp et al., 2002; Bertone et al., 2004; Cheng et al., 2005; David et al., 2006; Birney et al., 2007). Functional data for the vast majority of ncRNAs are currently lacking, with only a few examples characterized in any detail; however, the diversity of mechanisms by which these act suggests that ncRNAs have a rich and varied biology that is largely still to be sampled. Long ncRNAs which overlap protein-coding genes have the potential to modulate the expression of their cognate coding RNA. Early characterized examples in yeast were thought to work by directly disrupting transcription factor or polymerase binding to the promoter of the coding RNA (Martens et al., 2004; Hongay et al., 2006); however, more recent data implicate specific chromatin structure changes in repression (Gelfand et al., 2011; Hainer et al., 2011), and many other cases of ncRNAs that alter chromatin modifications have been described (Camblong et al., 2007; Berretta et al., 2008; Houseley et al., 2008; Pinskaya et al., 2009; van Werven et al., 2012). Chromatin modifications are not necessarily repressive, and ncRNAs that enhance expression of their overlapping coding gene have also been described (Uhler et al., 2007; Hirota et al., 2008).

Frequency of annotated antisense non-protein coding RNAs

Frequency of annotated antisense non-protein coding RNAs

Figure 1. Frequency of annotated antisense non-protein coding RNAs (ncRNAs) and effects on mRNA abundance. (A) Schematic of an example sense mRNA-antisense (ncRNA) system. (B) Number of annotated open reading frames (ORFs) with antisense transcripts. Positions of CUTs, SUTs, and XUTs were collated with expressed ORFs (Xu et al., 2009; van Dijk et al., 2011), SUTs were later re-classified as XUTs were removed. Overlaps between ORFs expressed in glucose media (total 5171, Xu et al., 2009) and other RNAs were calculated and summed for increasing minimum overlaps of 50–500 bp. ORF–ORF overlaps and ORF–ncRNA overlaps were analyzed separately as ORF–ORF overlaps are consistently smaller. Detailed figures are given in Table 1. (C) Abundance of short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) in RNA interference (RNAi)+ strain produced from expressed ORFs with and without an annotated overlapping antisense ncRNA, based on read counts from published high-throughput sequencing data (Drinnenberg et al., 2011). Minimum antisense overlap with ORF was set at 250 bp; only ORFs with >100 reads in the wild-type poly(A)+ library were assessed to remove noise. Stated p value calculated by Student’s t test. (D) Abundance of mRNA in RNAi+ cells relative to wild-type; data source and categories as in C, differences were not significant.

Multi-copy loci are preferentially targeted by RNA interference (RNAi).

Multi-copy loci are preferentially targeted by RNA interference (RNAi).

Figure 4. Multi-copy loci are preferentially targeted by RNA interference (RNAi). (A) Short interfering RNA (siRNA) (Drinnenberg et al., 2011) and total RNA (Silva et al., 2002) abundance for loci with copy number <2 (left, single-copy) or ≥2 (right, multi-copy). (B) Quantification of data from A binned into categories of increasing total RNA level, with p values for pairwise comparisons of siRNA abundance in single-copy and multi-copy datasets using the Wilcoxon Rank Sum test. (C) Copy number distribution of the 1% of loci with the highest siRNA:total RNA ratio compared with other loci; difference is significant by Wilcoxon Rank Sum test, p<2.2 × 10−16, loci scoring below noise threshold (0–2 category in B) were removed. n values for tests in B and C are given in Table 2. (D) Comparison of copy number with siRNA:total RNA ratio across chromosome I. Cruz and Houseley. eLife 2014;3:e01581.   eLife digest Genes contain the codes that are needed to make the proteins used by cells. This code is transcribed to make a messenger RNA molecule that is then translated to make a protein. However, other types of RNA called

  • non-coding RNA molecules can disrupt this process
  • by binding to messenger RNA molecules,
  • with matching sequences, before translation begins.

RNA interference involves enzymes called Dicer and Argonaute. Many cells contain large numbers of non-coding RNA molecules—

  • so called because they are not translated to produce proteins—
  • and many of these are capable of starting the process of RNA interference.

However, most do not, and the reasons for this are not understood. Now, work by Cruz and Houseley has provided new insight into this phenomenon by showing that

  • it is related to the number of copies of the gene encoding such RNAs in the genome.

Yeast cells normally do not have the genes for RNA interference, but Cruz and Houseley used

  • genetically engineered yeast cells containing Dicer and Argonaute.

Although most of the messenger RNA molecules in these cells showed no change,

  • the expression of some genes with high ‘copy numbers’ was reduced.

Further experiments that involved adding more and more copies of other genes showed that

  • RNA interference could selectively target messenger RNA molecules produced from genes with an increased copy number—
  • particularly if the copies of the genes were clustered in one location in the genome.

RNA interference is also used to defend against DNA sequences that invade and multiply within a genome, such as viruses and other ‘genetic parasites’. As such, the effect observed by Cruz and Houseley could explain why entire genomes are often continuously copied to RNA at low levels. This activity would allow the monitoring of the genome for the invasion of any genetic parasites that had multiplied to high numbers. Following on from this work, the next challenge will be to understand how gene copy number and location are balanced to achieve a selective RNA interference system.   RNA in unexpected places: long non-coding RNA functions in diverse cellular contexts Sarah Geisler1,2 and Jeff Coller1 1Center for RNA Molecular Biology, Case Western Reserve, Cleveland , OH 2Present address: Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich, 4058 Basel, Switzerland. NATURE REVIEWS | MOLECULAR CELL BIOLOGY


Abstract | The increased application of transcriptome-wide profiling approaches has led to an explosion in the number of documented long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). While these new and enigmatic players in the complex transcriptional milieu are encoded by a significant proportion of the genome, their functions are mostly unknown. Early discoveries support a paradigm in which   lncRNAs regulate transcription via chromatin modulation, but

  • new functions are steadily emerging.

Given the biochemical versatility of RNA, lncRNAs may be used for various tasks, including

  • post-transcriptional regulation,
  • organization of protein complexes,
  • cell-cell signalling and
  • allosteric regulation of proteins.

Nature Reviews – Molecular Cell Biology | 9 Oct 2013;   In this Review, we focus on the functional attrib­utes of RNA and highlight the unconventional, and perhaps underappreciated, biological contributions of lncRNAs, including the diverse mechanisms through which lncRNAs participate in transcriptional regu­lation. We touch briefly on the roles of lncRNAs in regulating chromatin states, as this has been explored in several recent reviews (see REFS 8,9,13–15). In addi­tion, we highlight roles beyond transcription whereby lncRNAs function in various cellular contexts, includ­ing

  1. post-transcriptional regulation,
  2. post-translational regulation of protein activity,
  3. organization of protein complexes,
  4. cell–cell signalling, as well as
  5. recombination

Transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs). Naturally found in some bacteria, TALEs are proteins that bind DNA through repeat domains, and their code for sequence specificity has been elucidated allowing sequence specific TALEs to be engineered.

  • PUF proteins

A family of sequence-specific RNA-binding proteins, which bind 3ʹ untranslated regions within mRNAs to repress target mRNA translation.

  • Pseudogenes

Dysfunctional relatives of normal genes thought to arise from duplication or retrotransposition.

  • Chromatin-modifying complexes

Protein complexes that catalyse the covalent chemical modification of chromatin

  • Adaptive immune system

A system of specialized cells that create immunological memory via specific antibodies after an initial response to a pathogen.   A biochemically versatile polymer   Figure 1 | RNA is a biochemically versatile polymer. a | RNA is particularly well suited for sequence-specific nucleic acid targeting through base pairing interactions over a short region (for example, eight nucleotides). By contrast, proteins require repeat motifs comprising 35–39 amino acids (105–117 base pairs of genomic sequence) to recognize a single RNA base with specificity. Therefore, to recognize eight nucleotides, 280–312 amino acids (840–936 base pairs of genomic sequence) would be required. Compared to the eight base pairs required for an RNA, protein-based nucleic acid recognition requires substantially more genomic sequence17. b | RNA can fold into complex three-dimensional structures that can specifically bind various ligands, including small molecules and peptides18. c | RNA is suitable for transient expression, because a fully functional RNA can be generated immediately following transcription and processing but can also be rapidly degraded. Together, this allows RNA effectors to be produced in quick pulses. Proteins, however, require additional steps, including mRNA export and translation, to produce a functional peptide. Likewise, both the mRNA and the protein need to be degraded to turn off expression. d | RNA is malleable and, therefore, more tolerant of mutations. Although some mutations in protein-coding genes are silent, many are deleterious such as nonsense mutations that generate truncated polypeptides. RNA, however, can tolerate mutations even within the regions responsible for target recognition. e | RNA-dependent events can be heritable. For instance, processed pseudogenes were once RNA transcripts that have been genomically integrated. In addition, telomerase uses an RNA template to add telomeric repeats to the ends of chromosomes. ORF, open reading frame; Pol II, RNA polymerase II.   lncRNAs as regulators of transcription   Figure 2 | lncRNAs regulate transcription through several mechanisms. ac | Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) can modulate chromatin through transcription-independent (part a) and transcription-dependent mechanisms (parts b and c). lncRNAs can bind one or more chromatin-modifying complexes and target their activities to specific DNA loci (part a). Depending on the nature of the enzymes bound, lncRNA-mediated chromatin modifications can activate or repress gene expression22,23,26,27,120. Chromatin-modifying complexes bound to the RNA polymerase II (Pol II) carboxy-terminal domain (CTD) can modify chromatin during transcription of lncRNAs33–35 (part b). Transcription of lncRNAs can also result in chromatin remodelling that can either favour or inhibit the binding of regulatory factors (part c). Depending on the nature of the factors that bind during remodelling, gene expression is activated or repressed 37–40. dg | lncRNAs can modulate both the general transcription machinery (parts d and e) as well as specific regulatory factors (parts f and g). lncRNAs can bind Pol II directly to inhibit transcription47 (part d). Formation of lncRNA–DNA triplex structures can also inhibit the assembly of the pre-initiation complex48 (part e). lncRNAs can fold into structures that mimic DNA-binding sites (left) or that generally inhibit or enhance the activity of specific transcription factors (right)50–53 (part f). lncRNAs can also regulate gene expression by binding specific transport factors to inhibit the nuclear localization of specific transcription factors54 (part g). Regulators of mRNA processing Modulators of post-transcriptional control   Figure 3 | lncRNAs influence mRNA processing and post-transcriptional regulation. a,b | Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) can modulate mRNA processing. Splicing patterns can be influenced by lncRNAs that associate with the pre-mRNA (part a). For example, splicing of the first intron of neuroblastoma MYC mRNA is prevented by a natural antisense transcript61. Antisense lncRNAs that associate with an mRNA could direct mRNA editing, perhaps through association of the duplex with ADAR (adenosine deaminase acting on RNA) enzymes that catalyse adenosine to inosine conversion in double-stranded RNA63,66 (part b). cf | lncRNAs modulate post-transcriptional regulatory events. lncRNAs containing SINEB2 repeat elements can upregulate translation through association with the 5ʹ region of an mRNA68 (part c). lncRNAs containing Alu repeat elements associate with the Alu elements in the 3ʹ untranslated region (UTR) of an mRNA, and this double-stranded structure can direct Staufen-mediated decay through a pathway that is molecularly similar to nonsense-mediated decay70 (part d). lncRNAs can mask miRNA-binding sites on a target mRNA to block miRNA-induced silencing through the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC)72 (part e). Linear or circular lncRNAs can function as miRNA decoys to sequester miRNAs from their target mRNAs74,75 (part f).                   Regulators of protein activity                 Scaffolds for higher-order complexes                 Signaling molecules   Figure 4 | lncRNAs are involved in various cellular contexts. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) modulate protein activity by post-translational mechanisms (parts ac). a | Small nucleolar lncRNAs (sno-lncRNAs) generated from the 15q11‑q13 locus bind and modulate the activity of the FOX2 alternative splicing factor, and this can inhibit FOX2‑mediated splicing80. b | The highly structured rncs‑1 lncRNA binds Dicer to inhibit the processing of small RNAs81. c | The gadd7 lncRNA binds and modulates the ability of TDP43 (TAR DNA-binding protein 43) to target and process specific mRNAs84. d | lncRNAs can act as scaffolds to organize several complexes24. e | As the cargo of exosomes that mediate transfer of material between cells, exosomal shuttle RNAs (exRNAs) may act as signalling molecules during cell–cell communication; exosomal cargo includes mRNAs, microRNAs (miRNAs) and lncRNAs102. f | lncRNAs expressed from the switch region of genes encoding antibodies form R‑loops to direct class switch recombination via activation-induced deaminase (AID) recruitment111                   Vehicles for increasing genetic diversity                 Conclusions and perspectives                 lncRNAs have now been demonstrated to regulate all aspects of gene expression, including transcription (FIG. 2), processing and post-transcriptional control path­ways (FIG. 3). Likewise, lncRNAs have also been shown to regulate protein function and organize multiprotein com­plex assembly. Now with hints that lncRNAs might par­ticipate in cell–cell communication and recombination, the possible reach of lncRNA functions seems endless (FIG. 4).   Targeting Noncoding RNAs in Disease: Challenges and Opportunities Science/AAAS technology webinar   4 Sept 2013  

  • Noncoding RNAs serve a wide range of functions in cellular and developmental processes and are therefore likely involved in the development and pathophysiology of many diseases.

Thanks to the effective inhibition of micro RNAs in vivo, scientists have already made groundbreaking discoveries about the contribution of short regulating RNAs in human diseases in areas such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Dr. David Corey from the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Campus in Dallas, Texas; Dr. Stefanie Dimmeler from the Institute of Cardiovascular Regeneration at Goethe‐University in Frankfurt, Germany; Dr. Jan‐Wilhelm Kornfeld from the Department of Mouse Genetics and Metabolism, University of Cologne in Germany.   Dr. Corey’s group is interested in antigene oligonucleotides, antisense oligonucleotides, nucleic acids, RNAi, and telomerase.   I have two goals for my presentation today.

  • give a brief introduction to the concept of using nucleic acids as dugs.
  • show the boundaries of using nucleic acids to affect gene expression


  • a search for new methods to develop drugs includes nucleic acids that can bind to RNA and affect gene expression. The advantages of this approach are that one can identify an active oligomer, a lead compound very quickly in weeks rather than years.
  • the medicinal chemistry and pharmacology of all of these nucleic acids is similar
  • by affecting gene expression, one has the ability to treat almost any disease

the two main strategies for using nucleic acid to affect gene expression are

  • use single cell stranded oligonucleotides to bind directly to an RNA target and block their action.
  • use double stranded RNA. Double stranded RNA then goes through the RNA silencing process. That machinery
  • helps it to find a messenger RNA target and efficiently inhibit gene expression.

What kind of cellular RNAs can be targeted by nucleic acids?

  • they could be the RNA domains of ribonucleoproteins and the classic example of that is telomerase.
  • One could also target messenger RNA.
  • You could block translation or you could affect splicing so for example upregulate an isoform that might be useful in treating a disease.
  • Today, we focus mainly on targetingnoncodingRNAs and one of thosenoncodingRNAs ismicroRNAs and by
    • blocking the microRNA you can affect its action.

I’m going to discuss targeting long noncoding RNAs, which can be used to either up or down regulate gene transcription. Earlier this year Kynamro, an antisense oligonucleotide that targets Ap‐B1 messenger RNA, was approved by the food and drug administration. This is a systemically administered oligonucleotide that’s been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol. So it’s the strongest proof to date that synthetic oligonucleotides can be made on the scale that’s large enough to be used as drugs and be administered to patients and get through the FDA approval process.

  • Now I’d like to show you just how the boundaries of regulation can be pushed by using noncoding RNAs to regulate transcription of an operon within the icosanoid signaling pathway. Messenger RNAs are often overlapped by long RNAs at both their 3’ and the 5’ termini as well as within the gene providing a new realm of potential targets for addressing gene expression.


  • examples of the important ones include XIST and HOTAIR
  • These are genes that are known to regulate x chromosome inactivation or transcriptional multigene regulation programs. one might think that with RNA that RNAi factors that are so successful in regulating messenger RNA might be involved. But today they haven’t really been strongly implicated in mammalian cells.


  •  we know that microRNAs are in the nucleus.
  • we also know that RNAi factors like argonaute 2 are in the nucleus.
  • we also know that noncoding RNAs are in the nucleus.

The hypothesis that we’ve built up over that time is that these RNAi factors can interact with small RNAs

  • to form what are essentially ribonucleoprotein complexes that can act to control either gene transcription or gene splicing.
  • The RNA domain protects the RNA and promotes binding to the target. The RNA domain directs specificity to a particular RNA target inside the cell, for example a long noncoding RNA.

in about 2010 working with my colleague Bethany Janowski, we decided to go very deeply into an important physiology pathway — the eicosanoid production pathway and cyclooxygenase‐2 and PLA2G4a

  • we began by asking whether or not there was noncoding expression at the COX‐2 promoter
  • we characterized this expression by RNA sequencing by quantitative PCI and 5’ RACE and
  • we discovered that there were transcripts overlapping the COX-promoter in both the antisense and the sense direction –
  • we now have the noncoding RNA raw material that might allow recognition to control gene expression of COX‐2 messenger RNA.


  • there were a substantial number of microRNAs with complementarity to the COX‐2 promoter.
  • small RNA sequencing to identify microRNAs in the nucleus and
  • microRNAs that were both in the nucleus and complementary to the

COX‐2 promoter became candidates for regulating COX‐2.

  • The most promising of these microRNAs was microRNA‐
  • It had strong complementarity to two adjacent sequences within the COX‐2

promoter. So that resembles how micro‐RNAs recognize typically 3’ untranslated regions.

  • it became our prime candidate for investigating for potential regulation of COX‐2 expression through regulating its transcription by binding a noncoding RNA.
  •  we used a microRNA inhibitor
  • When we add these inhibitors into cells COX‐2 expression goes down.
  • consistent with a microRNA binding to the noncoding RNA and activating COX‐2 expression

This is as far as this reviewer wishes to prodeed in the presentation(s)   Explore microRNA as therapeutic targets Efficient [in vivo] silencing using LNA™-enhanced inhibitors   Nature Reprint Collection MicroRNAs from bench to clinic   Progress in the microRNA fi eld over the last 12 years has been nothing but remarkable. MicroRNAs were only discovered in humans in 2001, but since then they have revolutionized cell biology and completely changed the way we view the regulation of gene expression. They are now known to be involved, at some level, in all cellular and developmental pathways and all major types of disease, including all cancers, as well as metabolic, cardiovascular, neuronal and immune-related disorders. Exiqon’s LNA™- based microRNA research tools have been instrumental in many of the groundbreaking discoveries in the field. In this collection, we are thrilled to present some of the recent advances in moving microRNAs from basic research into the clinic both as biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Since the discovery of circulating or extracellular microRNAs, their potential as minimally invasive diagnostic and prognostic markers for disease has been actively investigated. Here we feature two articles where qPCR profiling of microRNAs in biofluids have been shown to have diagnostic potential. Another promising area with clinical prospects is microRNA in situ hybridization (ISH) in FFPE samples. We have included an article detailing the prognostic potential of microRNA ISH in this collection. Due to their extensive involvement in human disease, microRNAs are naturally interesting targets for therapeutic intervention. One of the most advanced areas in this respect is the potential of microRNAs as therapeutic targets in cardiovascular disease and we have included a review of this area. In addition, two very recent and groundbreaking studies that have shown the exciting potential for microRNA inhibition in diabetes and epilepsy are also included.   Identification of serum microRNA profiles in colon cancer E Hofsli*,1,2,7, W Sjursen3,4,7, W S Prestvik5, J Johansen2, M Rye2, G Tranø6, et al. 1Department of Oncology, St Olavs Hospital, Trondheim University Hospital, 2Faculty of Medicine, Department of Cancer and Molecular Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  3Department of Laboratory Medicine Children’s and Women’s Health, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 4Department of Pathology and Medical Genetics, St Olavs Hospital, Trondheim University Hospital, 5 Faculty of Technology, Sør-Trøndelag University College, and 6Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, St Olavs Hospital, Trondheim University Hospital, Olav Kyrresgt 17, Trondheim 7006, Norway British Journal of Cancer (2013) 108, 1712–1719 | Background: microRNAs (miRNAs) exist in blood in an apparently stable form. We have explored whether serum miRNAs can be used as non-invasive early biomarkers of colon cancer. Methods: Serum samples from 30 patients with colon cancer stage IV and 10 healthy controls were examined for the expression of 375 cancer-relevant miRNAs. Based on the miRNA profile in this study, 34 selected miRNAs were measured in serum from 40 patients with stage I–II colon cancer and from 10 additional controls. Results: Twenty miRNAs were differentially expressed in serum from stage IV patients compared with controls (Po0.01). Unsupervised clustering revealed four subgroups; one corresponding mostly to the control group and the three others to the patient groups. Of the 34 miRNAs measured in the follow-up study of stage I–II patients, 21 showed concordant expression between stage IV and stage I–II patient. Based on the profiles of these 21 miRNAs, a supervised linear regression analysis (Partial Least Squares Regression) was performed. Using this model we correctly assigned stage I–II colon cancer patients based on miRNA profiles of stage IV patients. Conclusion: Serum miRNA expression profiling may be utilised in early detection of colon cancer. MicroRNAs from bench to clinic   Figure 2. Differentially expressed miRNAs in stage IV (red bars) vs stage I–II (blue bars) colon cancer. The expression of 34 miRNAs was compared, and 26 miRNAs were detected. In all, 21 of 26 detected miRNAs showed the same expression profile in early-stage I–II vs metastatic stage IV colon cancer.     Figure 3. Prediction analysis of early-stage colon cancer patients. Controls are shown in red and cancer samples in blue. 9 out of 10 healthy controls were correctly predicted as true negatives and 35 out of 40 patients with cancer as true positives.     MicroRNA profiling of diagnostic needle aspirates from patients with pancreatic cancer S Ali1, H Saleh2,3, S Sethi2, FH Sarkar1,2 and PA Philip*,1 1Department of Oncology; 2Department of Pathology; 3Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI   BACKGROUND: A major challenge to the development of biomarkers for pancreatic cancer (PC) is the small amount of tissue obtained at the time of diagnosis. Single-gene analyses may not reliably predict biology of PC because of its complex molecular makeup.MicroRNA (miRNA) profiling may provide a more informative molecular interrogation of tumours. The primary objective of this study was to determine the feasibility of performing miRNA arrays and quantitative real-time PCR (qRT– PCR) from archival formalin fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) cell blocks obtained from fine-needle aspirates (FNAs) that is the commonest diagnostic procedure for suspected PC. METHODS: MicroRNA expression profiling was performed on FFPE from FNA of suspicious pancreatic masses. Subjects included those who had a pathological diagnosis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma and others with a non-malignant pancreatic histology. Exiqon assay was used to quantify miRNA levels and qRT–PCR was used to validate abnormal expression of selected miRNAs. RESULTS: A total of 29 and 15 subjects had pancreatic adenocarcinoma and no evidence of cancer, respectively. The RNA yields per patient varied from 25 to 100 ng. Profiling demonstrated deregulation of over 228 miRNAs in pancreatic adenocarcinoma of which the top 7 were further validated by qRT–PCR. The expression of let-7c, let-7 f, and miR-200c were significantly reduced in most patients whereas the expression of miR-486-5p and miR-451 were significantly elevated in all pancreas cancer patients. MicroRNAs let-7d and miR-423-5p was either downregulated or upregulated with a significant inter-individual variation in their expression. CONCLUSION: This study demonstrated the feasibility of using archival FFPE cell blocks from FNAs to establish RNA-based molecular signatures unique to pancreatic adenocarcinoma with potential applications in clinical trials for risk stratification, patient selection, and target validation. British Journal of Cancer (2012) 107, 1354–1360.  http://dx.doi,org:/10.1038/bjc.2012.383 Comparative expression of seven miRNAs tested in FNA samples   Figure 1 Ingenuity network analysis showing up (red) and downregulation (green) of miRNAs analysed by miRNA profiling in PC and their targeted genes.

miRNAs analysed by miRNA profiling in PC and their targeted genes

miRNAs analysed by miRNA profiling in PC and their targeted genes

Figure 2 Ingenuity network analysis showing up (red) and downregulation (green) of miRNAs involved in PC and their target genes (A). The solid lines connecting genes represent a direct relation and dotted lines indirect relation. We also observed 15 bio functional network groups that included cancer, genetic disorder, and gastrointestinal disease (B).

Ingenuity network analysis showing up (red) and downregulation (green) of miRNAs involved in PC and their target genes

Ingenuity network analysis showing up (red) and downregulation (green) of miRNAs involved in PC and their target genes

Figure 6 Box plot representing the expression of 7 miRNAs as assessed by qRT–PCR in 29 FNA cell blocks from PC patients analysed individually compared with FNA cell blocks obtained from 15 normal controls by using qRT–PCR. The graph is presented in log2 values and 1.0 represents average of normal subjects (n¼15). [not shown]   The prognostic importance of miR-21 in stage II colon cancer:a population-based study S Kjaer-Frifeldt*,1,2, TF Hansen1, BS Nielsen3, S Joergensen3, J Lindebjerg4, …on behalf of Danish Colorectal Cancer Group 1Department of Oncology, Danish Colorectal Cancer Group South, Vejle Hospital; 2University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark; 3Diagnostic Product Development, Exiqon A/S, Vedbæk 2950, Denmark; 4Department of Clinical Pathology, Vejle Hospital, Vejle, Denmark British Journal of Cancer (2012) 107, 1169–1174   BACKGROUND: Despite several years of research and attempts to develop prognostic models a considerable fraction of stage II colon cancer patients will experience relapse within few years from their operation. The aim of the present study was to investigate the prognostic importance of miRNA-21 (miR-21), quantified by in situ hybridisation, in a unique, large population-based cohort. PATIENTS AND METHODS: The study included 764 patients diagnosed with stage II colon cancer in Denmark in the year 2003. One section from a representative paraffin-embedded tumour tissue specimen from each patient was processed for analysis of miR-21 and quantitatively assessed by image analysis. RESULTS: The miR-21 signal was predominantly observed in fibroblast-like cells located in the stromal compartment of the tumours. We found that patients expressing high levels of miR-21 had significantly inferior recurrence-free cancer-specific survival (RF-CSS): HR¼1.26; 95% CI: 1.15–1.60; Po0.001. In Cox regression analysis, a high level of miR-21 retained its prognostic importance and was found to be significantly related to poor RF-CSS: HR¼1.41; 95% CI: 1.19–1.67; Po0.001. CONCLUSION: The present study showed that increasing miR-21 expression levels were significantly correlated to decreasing RF-CSS. Further investigations of the clinical importance of miR-21 in the selection of high-risk stage II colon cancer patients are merited. British Journal of Cancer (2012) 107, 1169–1174.

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