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Mol Ther. 2008 Jun;16(6):1105-12. doi: 10.1038/mt.2008.82. Epub 2008 Apr 22.

Expressed anti-HBV primary microRNA shuttles inhibit viral replication efficiently in vitro and in vivo.

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Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit, Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology, University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, Johannesburg, South Africa.


The use of RNA interference (RNAi) to inhibit gene expression is potentially applicable in the treatment of viral infections such as hepatitis B virus (HBV) persistence. Although efficient HBV gene silencing by short hairpin RNA (shRNA) expressed from RNA polymerase (Pol) III promoters has been reported, constitutive high-level transcription may cause harmful side effects. Here, we report an approach that allows the use of a Pol II promoter to improve transcription regulation of expressed RNAi effecters. Pol II [cytomegalovirus (CMV)] or Pol III (U6) promoter cassettes that transcribe anti-HBV primary microRNA (pri-miR)-122 and pri-miR-31 shuttles were generated. In cultured cells both types of pri-miR-like sequences effected knockdown of markers of viral replication (>80%) and were processed to form intended 21-nucleotide guides. The concentration of CMV-expressed miRs was approximately 85-fold lower than the U6 shRNA-derived guide RNA. When cells were co-transfected with pri-miR expression cassettes, attenuation of independent RNAi-mediated gene silencing was not observed, which is in contrast to the action of U6 shRNA expression cassettes. The efficacy of the anti-HBV pri-miR shuttles in vivo was verified using the murine hydrodynamic injection model. Employing Pol II-expressed pri-miR mimics may be useful in the treatment of HBV infection, and potentially also for generic application in RNAi-based therapy.

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