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J Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Nov 30;36(6):538-44.

Identification of the most accessible sites to ribozymes on the hepatitis C virus internal ribosome entry site.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Dankook University, Seoul 140-714, Korea.


The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major causative agent of chronic hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The development of alternative antiviral therapies is warranted because current treatments for the HCV infection affect only a limited number of patients and lead to significant toxicities. The HCV genome is exclusively present in the RNA form; therefore, ribozyme strategies to target certain HCV sequences have been proposed as anti-HCV treatments. In this study, we determined which regions of the internal ribosome entry site (IRES) of HCV are accessible to ribozymes by employing an RNA mapping strategy that is based on a trans-splicing ribozyme library. We then discovered that the loop regions of the domain IIIb of HCV IRES appeared to be particularly accessible. Moreover, to verify if the target sites that were predicted to be accessible are truly the most accessible, we assessed the ribozyme activities by comparing not only the trans-splicing activities in vitro but also the trans-cleavage activities in cells of several ribozymes that targeted different sites. The ribozyme that could target the most accessible site identified by mapping studies was then the most active with high fidelity in cells as well as in vitro. These results demonstrate that the RNA mapping strategy represents an effective method to determine the accessible regions of target RNAs and have important implications for the development of various antiviral therapies which are based on RNA such as ribozyme, antisense, or siRNA.

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