Antisense oligonucleotide therapies: the promise and the challenges from a toxicologic pathologist's perspective

Toxicol Pathol. 2015 Jan;43(1):78-89. doi: 10.1177/0192623314551840. Epub 2014 Nov 9.


Many antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) from several classes of molecules are currently in drug development. Despite over 20 years of pharmaceutical research, few ASOs have been marketed due to problems with clinical efficacy or preclinical toxicologic challenges. However, a number of recent developments have renewed interest in this class including the registration of mipomersen, the advent of successful screening strategies to eliminate more toxic molecules, and new understanding of the risks of off-target nucleotide binding and mitigation of potential off-target effects. Recent advances in backbone chemistries, conjugation to other moieties, and new delivery systems have allowed better tissue penetration, enhanced intracellular targeting, and less frequent dosing, resulting in fewer toxicities. While these new developments provide invigorated interest in these platforms, a few lingering challenges and preclinical/clinical toxicity issues remain to be completely resolved, including: (1) proinflammatory effects (vasculitis/inflammatory infiltrates); (2) nephrotoxicity and hepatotoxicity unrelated to lysosomal accumulation; and (3) thrombocytopenia. Recent investigative work by several laboratories have helped elucidate mechanisms for these issues, allowing a better understanding of the clinical relevance and implications of particular toxicities. It is important for toxicologists, pathologists, and regulatory reviewers to be familiar with new developments in the ASO field and their implications, as a greater number of new types of antisense molecules undergo preclinical toxicity testing.

Keywords: drug development; mechanisms of toxicity; oligonucleotide.; safety assessment; toxicologic pathology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Humans
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / adverse effects
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / therapeutic use*
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / toxicity
  • Patient Safety*
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense