Background: The bcl-2 oncoprotein suppresses apoptosis and, when overexpressed in prostate cancer cells, makes these cells resistant to a variety of therapeutic agents, including hormonal ablation. Therefore, bcl-2 provides a strategic target for the development of gene knockout therapies to treat human prostate cancers. Towards this end, we have synthesized an anti-bcl-2 gene therapeutic reagent based on ribozyme technology and have tested its effectiveness against bcl-2 mRNA in vitro and in vivo.
Methods: A divalent hammerhead ribozyme was constructed by recombining two catalytic RNA domains into an antisense segment of the coding region for human bcl-2 mRNA. A disabled ribozyme lacking catalytic activity was also constructed as a control reagent for our experiments. The ribozymes were tested for endonucleolytic activity against synthetic and natural bcl-2 mRNAs. Simple transfection procedures were then utilized to introduce the ribozymes into cultured prostate cancer cells (LNCaP derivatives). We measured the effects of the ribozymes on endogenous expression of bcl-2 mRNA and protein in these cells as well as their ability to induce apoptosis.
Results: The functional but not the disabled ribozyme was able to rapidly degrade bcl-2 mRNA in vitro, without the requirement for any other cellular protein or factor. When directly transfected into LNCaP cell variants, it significantly reduced bcl-2 mRNA and protein levels within 18 hr of treatment. This activity was sufficient to induce apoptosis in a low-bcl-2-expressing variant of LNCaP, but not in a high-bcl-2-expressing LNCaP line. For the high-bcl-2-expressing variant, however, it did restore the ability to genetically respond to a secondary apoptotic agent, phorbol ester, as evidenced by the renewed ability of phorbol ester to induce NGF1A mRNA in these cells.
Conclusions: This study supports the potential utility of an anti-bcl-2 ribozyme reagent for reducing or eliminating bcl-2 expression from hormone-refractory prostate cancer cells and for killing prostate cancer cells. As such, it is the first step toward an effective gene therapy against hormone-refractory human prostate cancers.