Antiproliferative activity of a triplex-forming oligonucleotide recognizing a Ki-ras polypurine/polypyrimidine motif correlates with protein binding

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The Ki-ras gene is frequently mutated and/or overexpressed in human cancer. Since it is suspected to play a key role in the pathogenesis of many tumors, there is interest to search for strategies aiming at the specific inhibition of this oncogene. In this paper, we investigated the capacity of a 20 mer G-rich oligonucleotide (ODN20) conjugated to high molecular weight monomethoxy polyethylene glycol (MPEG) to inhibit the expression of the Ki-ras gene and the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells. The conjugate, MPEG ODN20, was designed to form a triplex with a critical pur/pyr sequence located in the promoter of the Ki-ras gene. To make the conjugate resistant to endogenous and exogenous nucleases, five phosphorothioate linkages were introduced in its backbone. Confocal microscopy and FACS experiments showed that MPEG ODN20 had a higher capacity to penetrate the cell membranes and accumulate in the nucleus of Panc-1 cells than ODN20. Incubation of Panc-1 cells with MPEG ODN20 reduced specifically the levels of Ki-ras mRNA and RAS protein p21RAS. A single-dose administration of MPEG ODN20 was sufficient to inhibit cell proliferation by about 50% compared with control. By contrast, the antiproliferative activity of the unconjugated ODN20 analog was found to be not significant. Band-shift and footprinting experiments showed that MPEG ODN20 formed a weak triplex (Kd ∼1.5 μM at 37°C, 50 mM Tris-acetate, pH 7.4, 10 mM NaCl, 10 mM MgCl2, 5 mM spermidine) with the Ki-ras pyr/pur motif, suggesting that its bioactivity can hardly be mediated by a triplex-based mechanism. Here, we provide evidence that, in vitro, ODN20 and MPEG ODN20 competitively inhibit the binding to the Ki-ras pur/pyr motif of a nuclear protein, suggesting that the activity of MPEG ODN20 occurs with an aptameric mechanism. The biological implications of this study are discussed.

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