Background: Antisense oligonucleotides (AOs) can interfere with exon recognition and intron removal during pre-mRNA processing, and induce excision of a targeted exon from the mature gene transcript. AOs have been used in vitro and in vivo to redirect dystrophin pre-mRNA processing in human and animal cells. Targeted exon skipping of selected exons in the dystrophin gene transcript can remove nonsense or frame-shifting mutations that would otherwise have lead to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most common childhood form of muscle wasting.
Results: Although many dystrophin exons can be excised using a single AO, several exons require two motifs to be masked for efficient or specific exon skipping. Some AOs were inactive when applied individually, yet pronounced exon excision was induced in transfected cells when the AOs were used in select combinations, clearly indicating synergistic rather than cumulative effects on splicing. The necessity for AO cocktails to induce efficient exon removal was observed with 2 different chemistries, 2'-O-methyl modified bases on a phosphorothioate backbone and phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers. Similarly, other trends in exon skipping, as a consequence of 2'-O-methyl AO action, such as removal of additional flanking exons or variations in exon skipping efficiency with overlapping AOs, were also seen when the corresponding sequences were prepared as phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers.
Conclusion: The combination of 2 AOs, directed at appropriate motifs in target exons was found to induce very efficient targeted exon skipping during processing of the dystrophin pre-mRNA. This combinatorial effect is clearly synergistic and is not influenced by the chemistry of the AOs used to induce exon excision. A hierarchy in exon skipping efficiency, observed with overlapping AOs composed of 2'-O-methyl modified bases, was also observed when these same sequences were evaluated as phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers, indicating design parameters established with one chemistry may be applied to the other.