RNA therapeutics: RNAi and antisense mechanisms and clinical applications

Postdoc J. 2016 Jul;4(7):35-50. doi: 10.14304/surya.jpr.v4n7.5.


RNA therapeutics refers to the use of oligonucleotides to target primarily ribonucleic acids (RNA) for therapeutic efforts or in research studies to elucidate functions of genes. Oligonucleotides are distinct from other pharmacological modalities, such as small molecules and antibodies that target mainly proteins, due to their mechanisms of action and chemical properties. Nucleic acids come in two forms: deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) and ribonucleic acids (RNA). Although DNA is more stable, RNA offers more structural variety ranging from messenger RNA (mRNA) that codes for protein to non-coding RNAs, microRNA (miRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), short interfering RNAs (siRNAs), ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and long-noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). As our understanding of the wide variety of RNAs deepens, researchers have sought to target RNA since >80% of the genome is estimated to be transcribed. These transcripts include non-coding RNAs such as miRNAs and siRNAs that function in gene regulation by playing key roles in the transfer of genetic information from DNA to protein, the final product of the central dogma in biology1. Currently there are two main approaches used to target RNA: double stranded RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) and antisense oligonucleotides (ASO). Both approaches are currently in clinical trials for targeting of RNAs involved in various diseases, such as cancer and neurodegeneration. In fact, ASOs targeting spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis have shown positive results in clinical trials2. Advantages of ASOs include higher affinity due to the development of chemical modifications that increase affinity, selectivity while decreasing toxicity due to off-target effects. This review will highlight the major therapeutic approaches of RNA medicine currently being applied with a focus on RNAi and ASOs.

Keywords: Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs); Locked Nucleic Acids (LNAs); RNA therapeutics; siRNAs.