Liver as a target for oligonucleotide therapeutics

J Hepatol. 2013 Dec;59(6):1354-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2013.05.045. Epub 2013 Jun 12.


Oligonucleotide-based therapeutics are an emerging class of drugs that hold the promise for silencing "un-druggable" targets,thus creating unique opportunities for innovative medicines. As opposed to gene therapy, oligonucleotides are considered to be more akin to small molecule therapeutics because they are small,completely synthetic in origin, do not integrate into the host genome,and have a defined duration of therapeutic activity after which effects recover to baseline. They offer a high degree of specificity at the genetic level, thereby reducing off-target effects.At the same time, they provide a strategy for targeting any gene in the genome, including transcripts that produce mutated proteins.Oligonucleotide-based therapeutics include short interfering RNA (siRNA), that degrade target mRNA through RISC mediated RNAi; anti-miRs, that target miRNAs; miRNA mimics, that regulate target mRNA; antisense oligonucleotides, that may be working through RNAseH mediated mRNA decay; mRNA upregulation,by targeting long non-coding RNAs; and oligonucleotides induced alternative splicing [1]. All these approaches require some minimal degree of homology at the nucleic acid sequence level for them to be functional. The different mechanisms of action and their relevant activity are outlined in Fig. 1. Besides homology,RNA secondary structure has also been exploited in the case of ribozymes and aptamers, which act by binding to nucleic acids or proteins, respectively. While there have been many reports of gene knockdown and gene modulation in cell lines and mice with all these methods, very few have advanced to clinical stages.The main obstacle to date has been the safe and effective intracellular delivery of these compounds in higher species, including humans. Indeed, their action requires direct interaction with DNA/RNA within the target cell so even when one solves the issues of tissue and cellular access, intracellular/intranuclear location represents yet another barrier to overcome. To date,hepatic delivery of oligonucleotides has been the area with greatest progress, and thus we have focused on liver-targeted therapeutics that have shown promise at the preclinical and/or clinical level.The liver is the largest internal organ in the body, playing a central role in metabolism, detoxification, synthesis, and secretion of major plasma proteins (carrier proteins, coagulation factors,complement components, hormones, and apolipoproteins),and iron homeostasis. It is therefore not surprising that a large number of disease targets reside in the liver where they are susceptible to modulation by oligonucleotide therapies.

Keywords: 2′-O-methoxyethyl; ALAS1; ANGPTL3; Antisense; FVII; FXI; GCGR; HCC; HCV; HoFH; KSP; LDL; LNA; Liver disease; MOE; MTP; Oligonucleotides; PCSK9; PLK1; Polo like kinase 1; RISC; RNA induced silencing complex; SAA; TMPRSS6; TTR; UTR; VEGF; angiopoietin-like 3; factor VII; factor XI; glucagon receptor; hepatitis C virus; hepatocellular carcinoma; homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia; kinesin spindle protein; locked nucleic acid; low density lipoprotein; miR; miRNA; microRNA; microsomal triglyceride transfer protein; proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9; serum amyloid A; short interfering RNA; siRNA; transmembrane protease serine 6; transthyretin; untranslated region; vascular endothelial growth factor; δ-aminolevulinate synthase 1.

MeSH terms

  • Angiopoietin-Like Protein 3
  • Angiopoietin-like Proteins
  • Angiopoietins / physiology
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Oligonucleotides / therapeutic use*
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / therapeutic use*


  • ANGPTL3 protein, human
  • Angiopoietin-Like Protein 3
  • Angiopoietin-like Proteins
  • Angiopoietins
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense