?The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
Confirming the RNAi-mediated
mechanism of action of siRNA-based
cancer therapeutics in mice
Adam D. Judge, Marjorie Robbins, Iran Tavakoli, Jasna Levi, Lina Hu,
Anna Fronda, Ellen Ambegia, Kevin McClintock, and Ian MacLachlan
Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
siRNAs are target-specific double-stranded RNA molecules
designed to suppress gene expression through the endogenous cel-
lular process of RNAi (1). Since the characterization of this funda-
mental gene-silencing mechanism, tremendous progress has been
made in developing siRNA as a potentially novel class of therapeu-
tic agent for a broad spectrum of diseases including cancer, viral
infection, and metabolic disorders.
Many siRNA targets in oncology have been described in the lit-
erature, although direct evidence that their therapeutic effects in
tumor models are mediated by RNAi is notably lacking. The inter-
pretation of antitumor activity attributable to siRNAs is problem-
atic due to the potential for off-target effects of the nucleic acids,
including their propensity to activate immune responses through
TLR-dependent (2–4) and TLR-independent mechanisms (5, 6).
These types of response are known to elicit antitumor effects, pri-
marily through the actions of IFNs and inflammatory cytokines
that exert antiangiogenic, proapoptotic, and adjuvant effects
that enhance cellular immunity (7, 8). Many of these mechanisms
remain active in the immunodeficient mouse strains typically
used as hosts for human tumor xenografts, including SCID/beige
mice, which lack functional lymphocyte and NK cell populations
(9, 10). Induction of the innate immune response by nucleic acids
can also have significant toxicologic consequences (reviewed in
ref. 11). Clinical experience with certain recombinant cytokines
and TLR agonists (12, 13) including liposomal plasmid DNA
(I. MacLachlan, unpublished observations) has shown that
human subjects can be exquisitely sensitive to the toxic effects of
these agents when compared with preclinical models. Therefore
additional caution is required if considering an immune stimula-
tory siRNA for clinical development (14, 15).
The incorporation of modified nucleotide chemistries into
siRNA has been widely utilized to improve their pharmacologic
and nuclease-resistant properties (16). We first reported that exten-
sive chemical modification to siRNA molecules could provide the
additional benefit of preventing their recognition by the mamma-
lian immune system (17). This has led to the rational design of
2′-O-methyl–modified (2′OMe-modified) siRNA constructs that
have inherently low immunostimulatory potential in vivo (18).
To establish proof that systemically administered siRNAs can
elicit RNAi-mediated anticancer efficacy in the absence of mea-
surable immune activation, we selected the essential cell-cycle pro-
teins kinesin spindle protein (KSP, also referred to as Eg5) (19)
and polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) (20) as validated cancer targets with
well-characterized mechanisms of direct tumor cell killing. KSP
is a mitotic spindle motor protein that drives chromosome seg-
regation during mitosis. Inhibition of KSP blocks the formation
of bipolar mitotic spindles, causing cell-cycle arrest, activation of
the mitotic checkpoint, and induction of apoptosis (21). In mam-
malian cells, PLK1 acts to phosphorylate a number of cell-cycle
proteins including Cdc25C, cyclin B, cohesin subunit SCC-1,
subunits of the anaphase promoting complex, mammalian kine-
sin-like protein 1, and other kinesin related proteins. This diverse
array of substrates reflects the multiple roles of PLK1 in mitosis
and cytokinesis (22). Overexpression of PLK1, observed in many
human tumor types, is a negative prognosticator of patient out-
come (reviewed in ref. 20), while inhibition of PLK1 activity rapidly
induces mitotic arrest and tumor cell apoptosis (23, 24). Depletion
Conflict?of?interest: All authors are employees of Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp.
Nonstandard?abbreviations?used: AS, antisense; bDNA, branched DNA; hGAPDH,
human GAPDH; hPLK1, human PLK1; IFIT1, IFN-induced protein with tetratri-
copeptide repeats 1; KSP, kinesin spindle protein; 2′OMe, 2′-O-methyl; 2′OMe-G,
2′OMe-guanosine; 2′OMe-U, 2′OMe-uridine; PEG, poly(ethylene)glycol; PEG-cDMA,
3-N-(-methoxy poly(ethylene glycol)2000)carbamoyl-1,2-dimyristyloxy-propylamine;
PEG-cDSA, 3-N-(-methoxy poly(ethylene glycol)2000)carbamoyl-1,2-distearyloxy-
propylamine; PLK1, polo-like kinase 1; RACE, rapid amplification of cDNA ends;
RISC, RNA-induced silencing complex; RLM, RNA ligase mediated; RLU, relative light
unit[s]; SNALP, stable nucleic acid lipid particle(s).
Citation?for?this?article: J. Clin. Invest. 119:661–673 (2009). doi:10.1172/JCI37515.
Related Commentary, page 438
662?The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
of PLK1 may also sensitize cancer cells to the proapoptotic activity
of small-molecule drugs (25), likely due to the role of PLK1 in the
DNA damage and spindle assembly checkpoints.
One of the primary barriers to realizing the potential of siRNA
therapeutics is the requirement for drug-delivery vehicles to facilitate
disease site targeting, cellular uptake, and cytoplasmic delivery of the
siRNA (26–28). Common approaches to delivery include complex-
ing the siRNA with polycations such as polyethyleneimine (29, 30)
and cyclodextrin polymers (31) as well as incorporation into cationic
lipid–based carriers (17, 18, 26, 32). We have previously described the
development of stable nucleic acid lipid particles (SNALP) as an effec-
tive systemic delivery vehicle for targeting siRNAs to the murine and
nonhuman primate liver and have demonstrated therapeutic effects
in silencing endogenous hepatocyte (18, 26) and viral gene transcripts
(17). The accumulation of SNALP within tissues of clinical interest
takes advantage of passive disease-site targeting (33, 34), whereby
charge-neutral carriers of suitable size (around 100-nm diameter or
smaller) can pass through the fenestrated epithelium of tumors, sites
of inflammation, and the healthy liver. This avoids the requirement
for active targeting moieties such as peptides, antibodies, and recep-
tor ligands that may otherwise be candidates for incorporation into
siRNA-delivery vehicles to enhance target-cell selectivity (31, 35, 36).
In this report, we describe the preclinical development of SNALP-
formulated siRNAs as cancer therapeutics. Results demonstrate that
rationally designed siRNAs targeting PLK1 or KSP, when delivered
with an effective systemic delivery vehicle, are able to affect therapeu-
tic gene silencing in solid tumors. The specificity and mechanism of
action is confirmed using a combination of methodologies that dem-
onstrate RNAi-mediated silencing of target mRNA causing mitotic
disruption in tumor cells typical of target inhibition. This can be
achieved in the complete absence of immune stimulation through
the use of appropriately designed, chemically modified siRNAs.
In vitro characterization of PLK1 siRNA activity. PLK1 represents a
validated gene target in oncology whose inhibition is known to
cause mitotic arrest and apoptosis in proliferating tumor-cell cul-
tures (20). We designed and screened a panel of PLK1 siRNA for
antiproliferative activity in the human HT29 colon cancer cell line
(Supplemental Figure 1; supplemental material available online
with this article; doi:10.1172/JCI37515DS1). This screen identi-
fied PLK1424 as the most potent human siRNA and PLK773 as the
most potent mouse, rat, and human cross-reactive siRNA based
on PLK1 sequence homology. These lead siRNAs were formulated
into a SNALP composition that has been shown to effectively tar-
get siRNA to the livers of rodents and nonhuman primates (26).
Treatment of HT29 cells with formulated PLK1424 and PLK773
siRNAs caused a dose-dependent decrease in cell viability that cor-
related with the degree of PLK1 mRNA silencing (Figure 1, A–C).
PLK1424 siRNA displayed potent activity in a range of human
cancer cell lines, including LS174T colon carcinoma and HepG2
and He3B hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines (Figure 1D), that
was associated with the dose-dependent induction of apoptosis
48 hours after siRNA transfection (Figure 1E).
Design of PLK1 and KSP siRNA for in vivo applications. Prior to the in
vivo assessment of synthetic siRNA, it is essential to anticipate the
potential effects of immune stimulation on the biological system
under consideration and take steps to mitigate this risk (11). We have
previously reported that the selective introduction of 2′OMe-guano-
sine (2′OMe-G) or 2′OMe-uridine (2′OMe-U) residues into siRNA
abrogates its capacity to activate an immune response (18, 37). This
original strategy proposed restricting 2′OMe modifications to the
siRNA sense strand in order to minimize the potential of negatively
impacting RNAi activity (18). While this approach remains broadly
applicable for synthetic siRNA (37), we have found through exten-
sions to our original studies that certain siRNA sequences incorpo-
rating a 2′OMe-modified sense strand, for example, the U(S)-ApoB1
duplex (18), may retain low-grade immunostimulatory activity. This
was only evidenced by the upregulation of IFN-induced protein with
tetratricopeptide repeats 1 (IFIT1) mRNA in the liver and spleen fol-
lowing i.v. administration of SNALP-formulated U(S)-ApoB1 siRNA
in mice, despite there being no measurable serum cytokine response
(Supplemental Figure 2). This residual IFIT1 induction, however,
could be fully abrogated by the selective introduction of 2′OMe
nucleotides to the antisense (AS) strand of the duplex (Supplemen-
tal Figure 2). These findings provided the rationale for our design
and testing of 2′OMe siRNA against oncology targets.
A similar approach to siRNA design was applied to PLK1424 and
PLK773 to generate duplexes that possessed no measurable immune
stimulatory effects yet retained full RNAi activity. We regarded this
step as a prerequisite to conducting in vivo studies in order to con-
clude the specificity of antitumor effects that may be observed.
2′OMe-U or 2′OMe-G nucleotides were substituted into the native
sense and AS oligonucleotides to form a panel of modified PLK1424
and PLK773 duplexes (Table 1) that were then screened for the pres-
ervation of RNAi activity. 2′OMe-PLK1424 duplexes containing the
modified AS strand A or B displayed antiproliferative activity similar
to that of the native PLK1424 sequence when paired with either of
the modified sense strands, 1 or 2. In contrast, duplexes containing
AS strand C lost significant activity, suggesting that this 2′OMe-
modification pattern was poorly tolerated by the RNAi machinery
(Figure 2A). The panel of 2′OMe-PLK773 duplexes displayed modest
differences in activity compared with the native PLK773 sequence
(Figure 2B). We selected PLK1424-2/A and PLK773-1/B siRNA
duplexes (comprising the designated 2′OMe-modified sense/AS
strands) for evaluation in an in vitro immune-stimulation model.
As expected, native PLK1424 and PLK773 siRNAs and their con-
stituent single-stranded RNAs (ssRNAs) stimulated murine Flt3-
ligand–derived dendritic cells to produce high levels of both IFN-α
and IL-6 (Figure 2C), whereas this immune reactivity was completely
abrogated in the PLK1424-2/A and PLK773-1/B duplexes.
To demonstrate the utility of this approach to siRNA design, we
applied the same methodology to a published siRNA targeting KSP
(38). The selected KSP siRNA (termed KSP2263 from its original
description) has full sequence homology to mouse and human KSP
mRNA and showed potent antiproliferative effects in both human
and mouse cancer cell lines. As an example, treatment of mouse
Neuro2a cells with SNALP-formulated KSP2263 induced dose-
dependent reductions in KSP mRNA 24 hours after transfection,
correlating with a subsequent loss of cell viability at 72 hours (Fig-
ure 2D). A small panel of modified KSP2263 duplexes containing
2′OMe-U or 2′OMe-G nucleotides (Table 1) was then screened in
this assay. In this case, each combination of the 2 modified sense
and AS strands generated a duplex with potency equivalent to
that of the native KSP2263 sequence, confirming preservation of
RNAi activity (Figure 2E). We selected the 2′OMe-modified variant
KSP2263-U/U for further characterization.
Confirmation of the RNAi mechanism by 5′ RACE-PCR. The detec-
tion of specific RNA cleavage products generated by RNA-induced
silencing complex–mediated (RISC-mediated) hydrolysis of target
?The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
mRNA is the definitive marker confirming RNAi as the mechanism
of gene silencing (39, 40). Activated RISC cleaves target mRNA pre-
cisely between the nucleotides complementary to positions 10 and
11 of the siRNA AS strand, generating an mRNA cleavage product
that is unique to the siRNA sequence. This can be detected in cells
using an appropriately designed 5′ rapid amplification of cDNA
ends–PCR method (RACE-PCR). We developed RACE-PCR assays
to detect the PLK1424-specific cleavage product of human PLK1
(hPLK1) mRNA and the KSP2263-specific cleavage product of
mouse KSP mRNA. Treatment of HT29 cells with PLK1424-2/A
generated the predicted 476-bp 5′ RACE-PCR product, and oli-
gonucleotide sequencing across the 5′ ligation site confirmed its
identity as the hPLK1 mRNA product cleaved at 5′ position 1433
(relative to ATG start site). Similarly, a predicted 102-bp RACE-
PCR product was amplified from Neuro2a cells treated with
KSP2263-U/U siRNA that corresponded to mouse KSP mRNA
cleaved at position 2129. (Supplemental Figure 3).
Characterization of the immune response to 2′OMe PLK1 and KSP
siRNA in vivo. To confirm the abrogation of immune stimula-
tion by 2′OMe siRNA in vivo, BALB/c mice were treated i.v. with
Activity of PLK1 siRNAs in vitro. Correlation between mRNA silencing and HT29 cell viability for (A) PLK1424 (P1424), (B) PLK773 (P773), and (C)
LUC siRNA treatments. PLK1 mRNA was determined by bDNA analysis at 24 hours. Duplicate plates were assessed for cell viability at 72 hours.
(D) PLK1424 siRNA causes dose-dependent reductions in viability of LS174T, HT29, Hep3B, and HepG2 cell cultures. Cells were treated for 72
hours with PLK1424 SNALP at increasing concentrations of 0.3, 0.6, 1.25, 2.5, and 5 nM siRNA (white bars to black bars, respectively). Values
in A–D are expressed as percentage of viability or PLK1 mRNA relative to PBS control and reflect mean of 3 separate experiments (± SD) con-
ducted in triplicate cultures. (E) Decreased cell viability is associated with the induction of apoptosis. Caspase-3/7 activity in LS174T cells was
assessed 24 hours and 48 hours after treatment with SNALP-encapsulated PLK773, PLK1424, and LUC control siRNAs. Data represent fold
induction over PBS in triplicate cultures (mean ± SD triplicate cultures).
664?The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
SNALP-formulated PLK1424-2/A, PLK773-1/B, KSP2263-U/U,
or a control 2′OMe siRNA targeting LUC (LUC-U/U). IFIT1
mRNA and serum cytokines were assessed 4–6 hours after SNALP
administration based on the approximate time of peak response
for these markers (see Supplemental Figure 2). In these studies,
we used the SNALP-formulated native LUC siRNA (Table 1) as a
positive control for immune stimulation. Administration (i.v.) of
this unmodified siRNA induced 83-fold and 247-fold increases in
IFIT1 mRNA in the liver and spleen, respectively, compared with
PBS-treated controls (Figure 3A). This was consistent with the
detection of systemic IFN-α in these animals (Figure 3B). In con-
trast, the PLK1424-2/A, PLK773-1/B, KSP2263-U/U, or LUC-U/U
siRNAs induced no measurable IFN-α or increase in IFIT1 mRNA
in the liver or spleen relative to PBS-treated animals, confirming
that these SNALP-formulated siRNAs caused no discernible IFN
signaling in either the liver as primary target organ for this formu-
lation or in secondary lymphoid tissues (Figure 3). As previously
reported (18), the administration of SNALP-formulated 2′OMe
siRNA induced no increase in other serum cytokines, including
IL-6, IL-10, IL-12, TNF, and IFN-γ, and displayed a similar lack
of immune reactivity in primary human immune cell cultures (A.
Judge, unpublished observations).
We believe that this siRNA design and screening approach can be
applied to any given sequence to rapidly identify siRNAs in which
the chemical modifications are well tolerated with respect to RNAi
activity and predicted to fully abrogate immune stimulation.
Unlike other chemical modification strategies for siRNAs, enhanc-
ing nuclease resistance was not a primary design consideration,
since SNALP, the intended delivery vehicle for in vivo studies, is
known to protect unmodified siRNA from nuclease degradation
for more than 24 hours in serum (18). However, the 2′OMe modi-
fication pattern can take into account the avoidance of (a) posi-
tion 9 in the sense strand based on the observation that efficient
activation of RISC involves initial cleavage of the siRNA sense
strand between positions 9 and 10 and this can be inhibited by the
introduction of nuclease-resistant chemistries at this linkage (41,
42); and (b) the 5′ AS terminus where modified chemistries may
interfere with effective RNA loading into RISC (43, 44).
Therapeutic inhibition of tumor growth by systemic siRNA administration.
We established orthotopic liver tumor models to examine the
pharmacodynamics and therapeutic efficacy of SNALP-formu-
lated PLK1424-2/A and KSP2263-U/U siRNA. These were a Hep3B
xenograft in SCID/beige mice as a representative model of human
hepatocellular carcinoma and a syngeneic Neuro2a tumor model in
immune-competent A/J mice. Tumor cells were injected directly into
the left lateral liver lobe to establish primary intrahepatic tumors
(45). This procedure resulted in histologically distinct, localized
tumor nodules in more than 90% of mice in both models.
To evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of SNALP-formulated PLK1
siRNA, mice bearing established Hep3B liver tumors were treated
with 2 mg/kg PLK1424-2/A or LUC-U/U siRNA by i.v. adminis-
tration twice weekly for 3 weeks, until control groups displayed
symptoms of extensive tumor burden. We have found progressive
body weight loss to be a good indicator of hepatic tumor burden
in the Hep3B-SCID/beige mouse model. Weight loss in LUC-U/U–
treated mice was evident 12–16 days after tumor implantation and
proceeded throughout the remainder of the study (Figure 4A). In
contrast, PLK1424-2/A SNALP–treated mice typically maintained
body weight over the duration of treatment, indicating that the
siRNA formulation was well tolerated and suggesting therapeutic
benefit. A humane end point was defined according to daily clini-
cal scores that were an aggregate of weight loss, body condition,
and abdominal distension. In this aggressive orthotopic model,
the time until first euthanization in the LUC-U/U group was 28
days after tumor seeding, with a median survival time of 32 days.
By comparison, the times to first euthanization and median sur-
vival in the PLK1424-2/A SNALP–treated mice were significantly
extended, to 44 days and 51 days, respectively (P < 0.05; Figure 4B).
Similar extensions of survival times were observed in repeat studies
utilizing athymic nu/nu mice as hosts (Supplemental Figure 4).
The extent of Hep3B liver tumor burden was then assessed at the
completion of dosing with PLK1424-2/A on day 22 after tumor
implantation (1 day after the fifth siRNA dose). At autopsy, only 2
of 6 PLK1424-2/A–treated mice had visible tumors localized around
the site of cell implantation into the liver lobe compared with exten-
sive macroscopic tumor burden in corresponding control animals
(Supplemental Figure 5). Species-specific probe sets to human
GAPDH (hGAPDH) mRNA detected low levels of this tumor-derived
signal in 5 of 6 PLK1424-2/A–treated mice, ranging from 2- to 6-fold
above the background signal from normal mouse liver (Figure 4C),
indicating that tumor growth was significantly suppressed but not
completely eradicated by this treatment regime.
To examine more closely the tolerability of systemic siRNA admin-
istration, we conducted multidose toxicity studies using the mouse
surrogate PLK773-1/B. Repeat administration of SNALP-formulated
PLK773-1/B at 2 mg/kg, twice weekly (mirroring the therapeutic dos-
ing regimen) caused no significant changes in serum liver enzyme
levels, total wbc counts, lymphocyte and neutrophil counts, platelet
numbers, or rbc parameters assessed after 15 and 29 days of continu-
PLK1, KSP, and LUC siRNA sequences with 2′OMe modification
Underlines indicate 2′OMe nucleotides.
? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
ous treatment (Supplemental Figure 6). These results indicate that
the therapeutic dosing regime established in the orthotopic tumor
model caused minimal hepatocellular toxicity and no significant
bone marrow dysfunction of the type frequently observed with the
systemic administration of small-molecule antimitotic drugs.
We next evaluated the therapeutic effect of SNALP-formulated
KSP2263-U/U siRNAs in syngeneic Neuro2a liver tumors. Median
survival time of mice receiving LUC-U/U SNALP (4 mg/kg, Q3d ×5)
was 20 days in this model compared with 28 days in the KSP2263-U/U
treatment group (Figure 4D), demonstrating therapeutic efficacy
with SNALP-formulated siRNAs for a second oncology target.
Confirmation of RNAi-mediated tumor gene silencing in vivo. Despite
demonstrating that the 2′OMe siRNA did not induce a measur-
able immune response in mice, it remained critical to show that
RNAi was the primary mechanism underlying the potent thera-
peutic effects of these PLK1 and KSP siRNA formulations. A
In vitro activity of unmodified versus 2′OMe-modified PLK1 and KSP siRNA. Activity of the 2′OMe-modified panels of (A) PLK1424 and (B)
PLK773 siRNA. Unmodified PLK1424 or PLK773 siRNA was compared in the Hep3B cell viability assay with the 2′OMe-modified duplexes 1/A,
2/A, 1/B, 2/B, 1/C, and 2/C that comprise the respective 2′OMe sense/AS oligonucleotides (see Table 1). Data show mean viability of triplicate
cultures relative to PBS-treated cells and represent 2 independent experiments using SNALP-formulated siRNAs. (C) Cytokine induction by
unmodified and 2′OMe PLK1 siRNA in vitro. Murine Flt3L DCs were treated with 5 μg/ml (350 nM) unmodified PLK773 and PLK1424 siRNA
duplexes and their constituent sense (S) or AS oligonucleotides or the 2′OMe siRNA duplexes PLK773-1/B (1/B) and PLK1424-2/A (2/A) for-
mulated in SNALP. IFN-α and IL-6 were assayed in culture supernatants at 24 hours. Values represent mean + SD of 3 separate experiments
conducted in triplicate cultures. (D and E) Activity of SNALP-formulated KSP2263 siRNA in murine Neuro2a cells. (D) Correlation between KSP
mRNA silencing and cell viability relative to PBS control. KSP mRNA was determined by bDNA analysis at 24 hours. Duplicate plates were
assessed for cell viability at 72 hours. (E) Activity screen comparing the unmodified KSP2263 siRNA to KSP2263-U/U (U/U), KSP2263-G/U
(G/U), and KS2263-G/G (G/G) siRNA duplexes that comprise the respective sense/AS 2′OMe oligonucleotides (see Table 1). SNALP-formulated
KSP2263 siRNA were tested in the Neuro2a cell viability assay. Data represent mean ± SD triplicate cultures, relative to PBS treatment.
666? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
single i.v. administration of SNALP-formulated PLK1424-2/A
(2 mg/kg) caused a significant reduction in tumor-derived hPLK1
mRNA in hepatic hep3B tumors 24 hours after administration
(45% ± 6.8% of hPLK1 mRNA levels in PBS-treated mice; Fig-
ure 5A). A similar reduction in mouse KSP mRNA expression
was achieved using an equivalent dose of KSP2263-U/U in the
hepatic Neuro2a tumor model (Figure 5B). In contrast to KSP
and PLK1 expression in tumors, endogenous expression of both
these genes in the surrounding nonproliferative liver was found
to be very low, below the level of detection of the branched DNA
(bDNA) assay employed in these studies (A. Judge, unpublished
observations). Since the expression of cell-cycle genes such as
PLK1 and KSP is typically downregulated as cells exit the cell
cycle (22), any nonspecific, antiproliferative effects induced by
siRNA or the delivery vehicle would cause a general decrease in
their expression within tumors. We therefore confirmed RNAi
as the mechanism responsible for mRNA silencing in vivo by the
5′ RACE PCR method. A PCR product of the predicted size was
readily amplified from hepatic Hep3B tumor samples taken 24
hours after administration of PLK1424-2/A SNALP (Figure 5C).
Oligonucleotide sequencing of the 476-bp PCR product from 3
individual mice confirmed its identity as the predicted 5′ cut end
of hPLK1 mRNA. This PCR product was not evident in tumors
taken from LUC-U/U siRNA–treated mice or in liver samples from
non–tumor bearing animals. RACE-PCR analysis also confirmed
the specific induction of RNAi-mediated KSP mRNA cleavage
within tumors of KSP2263-U/U–treated animals (Figure 5D).
5′ RACE-PCR to monitor the duration of RNAi in tumors. To determine
the duration of active RNAi within the tumor, we treated a cohort
of Hep3B tumor–bearing mice with PLK1424-2/A SNALP (2 mg/kg
by i.v. administration) and collected tumors 24 hours, 48 hours,
96 hours, 7 days, and 10 days after administration for analysis by 5′
RACE-PCR. Active PLK1 mRNA cleavage remained strong at 48 and
96 hours and was still evident 7 days after a single siRNA admin-
istration. A weak signal was detected in PLK1424-treated animals
on day 10 (Figure 6A). The duration of RNAi determined by RACE-
PCR closely correlated with the level of hPLK1 mRNA silencing in
these liver tumors (Figure 6B), providing further confirmation that
RNAi was the primary mechanism for reductions in PLK1 mRNA.
Since the cleaved mRNA species are inherently unstable in the cell
cytoplasm, it can be concluded that active RISC-mediated cleavage
of the target mRNA persisted for 7–10 days after a single siRNA
treatment. This suggests that active RNAi continued to occur either
within a subset of tumor cells at subcytotoxic levels or within an
initially nonproliferative population that subsequently entered cell
cycle and reexpressed PLK1 mRNA.
RNAi-mediated antitumor activity assessed by histology. Many antimi-
totic drugs, including KSP (46) and PLK1 inhibitors (47, 48), induce
distinct nuclear phenotypes that reflect their underlying mecha-
nism of action. We therefore used conventional histology as a bio-
marker to assess whether the degree of RNAi-mediated gene silenc-
ing in vivo was sufficient to induce the desired antimitotic effect in
tumor cells. Inhibition of KSP prevents bipolar spindle formation
and centrosome segregation, leading to the formation of charac-
teristic monoastral spindles. We first confirmed that the treatment
of tumor cells with KSP2263-U/U siRNA induced the distinct
monoastral nuclear phenotype in vitro (Supplemental Figure 7).
Conventional histology on Neuro2a tumors from KSP2263-U/U–
treated mice revealed significant numbers of tumor cells with aber-
rant mitotic figures typical of monoastral and apoptotic cells (46)
24 hours after SNALP administration (Figure 7, A and B). This
dramatic pharmacodynamic response to KSP2263-U/U treatment
was dose dependent, with maximal effects observed at 2 mg/kg
siRNA, based on quantitative histology scores (Figure 7C). This
analysis demonstrated that approximately 13% of total Neuro2a
tumor cells displayed condensed chromatin structures at 24 hours
after siRNA treatment compared with approximately 3% of cells
displaying typical mitotic figures in control tumors.
Histological analysis of Hep3B liver tumors from PLK1424-2/A
SNALP–treated mice also revealed abundant tumor cells with con-
densed chromatin structures and aberrant mitotic figures (Figure
8). These phenotypic changes were consistent with the dysregulated
chromosomal segregation and apoptosis that is induced by PLK1
inhibition (47) and were in striking contrast to the typical mitotic
figures evident in the tumor histology of control-treated animals.
These molecular and cellular pharmacodynamic studies con-
firmed that the degree of RNAi-mediated silencing achieved by a
single i.v. administration of SNALP-formulated PLK or KSP siRNA
2′OMe-modified PLK1, KSP, and LUC siRNA induce no measurable IFN response in mice. SNALP-formulated LUC (unmodified) and 2′OMe-
modified LUC-U/U, PLK1424-2/A, PLK773-1/B, and KSP2263-U/U (K2263 U/U) siRNA were administered at 2 mg/kg i.v. to BALB/c mice. (A)
IFIT1 relative to GAPDH mRNA in liver and spleen was assessed at 4 hours by bDNA analysis. (B). Serum IFN-α was assessed at 6 hours by
ELISA. SNALP-formulated 2′OMe siRNAs induced no detectable increase in either IFN-α protein or IFIT1 mRNA relative to PBS vehicle. Values
represent mean + SD (n = 4).
?The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
was sufficient to cause mitotic dysfunction in a substantial pro-
portion of tumor cells. Histological assessments of drug activity
in both models demonstrated that “affected” cells were distributed
throughout established tumors, indicating good penetration of
the lipidic delivery vehicle. Taken together, this battery of tests
provided conclusive evidence that the potent therapeutic effects
of these SNALP-formulated siRNAs in the absence of a measurable
immune response are the result of RNAi.
Therapeutic activity of SNALP-formulated siRNA in s.c. tumors. To
expand the general utility of this technology in oncology, we
determined whether the performance of this liver-targeting
SNALP formulation (26) could be further improved for deliver-
ing siRNA to tumors outside of the liver. For vehicles contain-
ing poly(ethylene)glycol-conjugated lipids (PEG-lipids) such as
SNALP, increased blood residency time and tumor accumula-
tion can be achieved by incorporating PEG-lipids with longer
alkyl chains that associate more strongly with the lipid particle
and provide greater shielding in the blood compartment (49).
Replacing the C14 PEG-lipid (3-N-(-methoxy poly(ethylene
cDMA]) with the C18 analogue 3-N-(-methoxy poly(ethylene
(50) had the predicted effect of significantly increasing the blood
circulation time of PLK1424-2/A SNALP in mice without altering
its therapeutic efficacy in hepatic tumors (Supplemental Figure
8; median survival: PLK PEG-cDMA, 51 days; PLK PEG-cDSA, 53
days versus LUC; PEG-cDMA, 33 days; P < 0.05).
Despite a relatively short blood-circulation time and rapid
distribution to the liver, repeat administration of PEG-cDMA
SNALP containing PLK1424-2/A caused significant inhibition
of s.c. Hep3B tumor growth compared with LUC-U/U siRNA
treatment controls (Figure 9A). PLK1424-2/A formulated in an
equivalent PEG-cDSA SNALP exhibited more potent antitumor
effects, inducing regression of established tumors (~7 mm diam-
eter) through the dosing period (Figure 9A). This difference in
activity correlated with the degree of gene silencing induced by
these PLK1424-2/A SNALP in s.c. tumors (Figure 9B). As in the
hepatic tumor models, this was confirmed as being mediated by
RNAi by both RACE-PCR and tumor histology (A. Judge, unpub-
lished observations). Finally, we established the therapeutic dose
response of the PEG-cDSA PLK1424-2/A formulation in the s.c.
model. Dose-dependent inhibition of tumor growth was evident
Therapeutic activity of PLK1 and KSP siRNA in hepatic tumors. PLK1424-2/A treatment confers significant survival advantages in SCID/beige
mice bearing hepatic Hep3B tumors. Mice were administered SNALP-formulated PLK1424-2/A (n = 15) or LUC-U/U (n = 8) at 6 × 2 mg/kg i.v.
twice weekly (day 10 to day 28). (A) Body weights (mean + SD) over the dosing period expressed as percentage of initial weight on day 10. (B)
Kaplan-Meier plot of days to euthanization due to tumor burden. PLK1424-2/A treatment provided significant survival advantage over control treat-
ment. (P = 0.03, log-rank Cox-Mantel test). (C) Residual hepatic Hep3B tumor burden in mice 24 hours after final administration of PLK1424-2/A
siRNA (5 × 2 mg/kg siRNA on days 8, 11, 14, 18, and 21). Bars represent hGAPDH mRNA/mg liver of individual mice (mean ± SD of triplicate
analyses) determined by human-specific bDNA assay. No tumor, livers from non–tumor-seeded mice. See Supplemental Figure 6 for additional
data. (D) KSP2263-U/U treatment confers survival advantages in A/J mice bearing hepatic Neuro2a tumors. Mice were administered SNALP-
formulated KSP2263-U/U or LUC-U/U (n = 8) at 5 × 4 mg/kg i.v. (q3d ×5 from day 8 to day 21 after tumor seeding). Kaplan-Meier plot of days
to euthanization due to tumor burden. End points are based on clinical scores as a humane surrogate for survival. Mean SNALP particle sizes
were 83 (0.09 polydispersity), and 90 (0.12 polydispersity) nm for PLK1424-2/A and LUC-U/U formulations, respectively.
668? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
from 0.5 to 3.0 mg/kg PLK1424-2/A siRNA (Figure 9C). At the
lowest dose level tested, this represented a total cumulative dose
of 3 mg/kg siRNA over a 2-week period.
Delineating the mechanism of action for nucleic acid–based drugs
has historically been confounded by underlying immune stimu-
lation or other nonspecific effects induced by the nucleic acid
(51, 52). This remains a valid concern for the burgeoning field of
siRNA-based therapeutics (11). Assessment of target mRNA or
protein downregulation is necessary but not sufficient to conclude
that RNAi is the underlying mechanism, as these changes may
also be symptomatic of the off-target effects induced by siRNA.
In this report on the development of SNALP-formulated siRNA
for oncology applications, we describe the methodology used to
confirm both the specificity and mechanism of action underlying
the potent siRNA-mediated antitumor efficacy in preclinical mod-
els. This involved a combination of approaches: first, the design
of both active and control siRNA formulations with no apparent
capacity to activate an immune response, therefore excluding as
best as possible the potential for nonspecific efficacy; second, the
selection of validated oncology targets (PLK1 and KSP) with direct
antitumor effects and distinctive histological biomarkers of func-
tional target inhibition; third, the use of RACE-PCR to confirm
induction of the RNAi-specific mRNA cleavage product in tumor
cells; and fourth, the correlation of this active RNAi signature with
the duration of target mRNA silencing in tumors. We believe that
this is the first report describing antitumor effects of siRNA to
formally demonstrate RNAi as the primary mechanism of action.
Furthermore, this approach to preclinical study design can be
generalized to other targets in oncology and readily adopted by
researchers in the RNAi field.
To evaluate the therapeutic potential of gene silencing in tumors
without the confounding effects of immune stimulation, we
designed 2′OMe-modified siRNA that completely abolished the
immunostimulatory activity of unmodified (native) RNA duplexes
when administered in a delivery vehicle. It is well established that
the large majority of native siRNA duplexes have the inherent capac-
Target mRNA silencing in hepatic tumors by the RNAi mechanism. (A and B) Target mRNA silencing and (C and D) detection of RNAi-specific
mRNA cleavage products in tumors following SNALP-formulated siRNA administration. SCID/beige mice with established intrahepatic Hep3B
tumors were administered a single 2 mg/kg dose of SNALP-formulated PLK1424-2/A or LUC-U/U siRNA, and RNAi activity was assessed by (A)
PLK1 mRNA in tumor lysates and (C) 5′ RACE-PCR analysis. (A) Tumor (human) PLK1/GAPDH mRNA ratios 24 hours after siRNA administration
(mean ± SD of 4 animals). (C) RACE-PCR detects the specific 5′ cleavage product of PLK1 mRNA from tumors analyzed in A. Lanes represent
PCR products derived from individual PBS (n = 2), LUC-U/U (n = 2), and PLK1424-2/A–treated mice (n = 3). (B) Mouse KSP mRNA and (D)
5′ RACE-PCR analysis of resected hepatic Neuro2a tumors from mice treated with SNALP-formulated KSP2263-U/U siRNA. Data are presented as
in A and C. Positive control from in vitro Neuro2a cell lysates treated with KSP2263-U/U siRNA indicated by plus sign; no template control indicated
by minus sign. RACE-PCR detects the specific 5′ cleavage product of mouse KSP mRNA from tumors. Identities of the predicted 476-bp PLK1
and 102-bp KSP PCR products (arrows) were confirmed by direct DNA sequencing. Mean SNALP particle sizes were 83 (0.09 polydispersity),
90 (0.12 polydispersity), and 88 (0.07 polydispersity) nm for PLK1424-2/A, LUC-U/U, and KSP2263-U/U formulations, respectively.
? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
ity to activate the innate immune response through the endosomal
TLR7 and/or TLR8 pathway, particularly when cellular uptake is
facilitated by delivery vehicles (2, 3, 18, 53). Naked (nonformulat-
ed) siRNA duplexes of 21 bp or longer have also been reported to
activate cell-surface TLR3 on endothelial cells, causing nonspecific
antiangiogenic effects in models of choroidal neovascularization
(4). The consequences of immune activation by siRNA in tumor
models was recently illustrated by the potent antitumor effects elic-
ited by both active and nontargeting immune stimulatory siRNA
constructs through the activation of immune effector functions
(15). The 2′OMe siRNAs developed in our studies induced no mea-
surable cytokine response in mice. There was also no induction of
the IFN inducible gene IFIT1 either in the liver, representing the
primary target organ for these delivery vehicles, or within second-
ary lymphoid tissues. IFIT1 expression is responsive to local IFN
signaling within tissues and is also induced directly via dsRNA
receptors, including TLR3, through an IFN-independent pathway
(54–56). Its measure can therefore be considered more broadly
indicative of siRNA-mediated immune activation compared with
the induction of particular systemic cytokines. Taken together, our
results indicate that the appropriate design of 2′OMe siRNA can
circumvent not only the activation of endosomal TLR7/8 (2, 3, 18,
53) but also that of TLR3 (56). We believe that this likely reflects
the fact that encapsulation of siRNA within delivery vehicles such
as SNALP effectively shields the RNA from exposure to TLR3 on
the cell surface. It is important that researchers confirm the full
abrogation of an immune response to their selected siRNA in the
context of their preferred delivery vehicle and animal model.
A number of strategies for chemically modifying siRNA have
been proposed, primarily with the intent to produce nuclease-resis-
tant duplexes (16). From our findings, it is predicted that strategies
incorporating 2′OMe-G, 2′OMe-U, or 2′OMe-adenosine (2′OMe-A)
residues into both strands of the duplex will generate nonimmuno-
stimulatory siRNA. One such method for siRNA design employs
alternating 2′OMe nucleotides throughout both strands of the
duplex (57). Santel and colleagues (58) have tested these 2′OMe
siRNAs against the angiogenic target CD31 in tumor models using
a lipoplex formulation that transfects vascular endothelium. Anti-
tumor effects in these studies were correlated with specific reduc-
tions in CD31 expression and tumor vasculature in the apparent
absence of overt immune stimulation. While the authors did not
confirm the induction of RNAi in their models and only looked at
systemic IFN-α 24 hours after siRNA administration, the report
represents one of the very few published RNAi studies in oncol-
ogy to use chemically modified siRNA constructs predicted to have
minimal immunostimulatory capacity. It should be noted that
this siRNA design is based on blunt-ended 19-mer duplexes that,
as naked molecules, are predicted not to activate TLR3 (4). This
assumption needs to be formally tested for these lipoplexed siRNAs
to ensure that complexing of short siRNA does not enable their
engagement of cell-surface TLR3 or other RNA receptors.
Target silencing by siRNA may offer several advantages over func-
tional inhibition by small-molecule drugs. By its nature, RNAi is
highly specific and allows for the selective inhibition of closely related
proteins compared with the relative promiscuity of kinase inhibitors.
Current PLK1 inhibitors, for example, also inhibit PLK2 and PLK3
kinase activity (23, 59), raising some concern that concomitant inhi-
bition of these family members may have opposing effects in control-
ling cell division (60). The biological response to protein depletion
by RNAi can also differ from its functional inhibition by small mol-
ecules, for example, the loss of both kinase and polo-box functional-
ity upon PLK1 gene silencing (61). The duration of drug effect that
can be achieved with siRNA is another attractive advantage. Once
RNAi is established within mammalian cells, gene silencing can per-
sist for many days due to the relative stability of activated RISC in
the presence of its complementary mRNA (26, 62). Therefore, the
maintenance of drug activity for an siRNA therapeutic is uncoupled
from the requirement to maintain an effective drug concentration
Duration of RNAi activity within hepatic tumors.
(A) 5′ RACE-PCR analysis of Hep3B liver
tumors 24 hours, 48 hours, 96 hours, 7 days,
and 10 days after a single i.v. administration
of SNALP-formulated PLK1424-2/A siRNA
(2 mg/kg). Specificity of the PLK1424-specific
RACE-PCR product (arrow) was confirmed by
sequencing at day 1 and day 7. (B) Correspond-
ing levels of PLK1 mRNA in isolated tumor RNA
analyzed in A. Duration of RNAi correlated with
duration of mRNA silencing compared with that
of LUC-U/U SNALP–treated mice. Data repre-
sent mean hPLK1/ hGAPDH mRNA ratio + SD
(n = 3 at each time point). Mean SNALP par-
ticle sizes were 83 (0.09 polydispersity) and 90
(0.12 polydispersity) nm for PLK1424-2/A and
670? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
in the blood. We have found that active RNAi in our tumor models
persisted for up to 10 days, based on detection of the specific mRNA
cleavage product by RACE-PCR. Interestingly, this duration of effect
was substantially shorter than that observed in comparable stud-
ies targeting ApoB expression in the healthy mouse liver in which
silencing at the mRNA level slowly resolved between 14 and 28 days
after siRNA administration (ref. 26 and I. MacLachlan, unpublished
observations). We believe that the attenuation of RNAi in the tumor
most likely results from the effective killing of affected tumor cells
and from the dilution of activated RISC through the proliferation of
cells receiving sublethal doses of PLK1 siRNA (62).
In conclusion, in this report we have demonstrated that sys-
temic administration of SNALP-formulated siRNA can trigger
RNAi-mediated cleavage of mRNA within solid tumors, silencing
target expression at a magnitude sufficient to induce the mitotic
disruption and apoptosis of tumor cells. We are able to reach this
conclusion with the utmost confidence based on the fact that we
have followed a clear and rigorous path that allows us to separate
siRNA-mediated effects on gene expression from other off-target
effects — hence, the importance of this report. Studies are now
ongoing to evaluate the utility of using SNALP-formulated siRNA
in combination with small-molecule drugs in hopes that this com-
bination may further enhance the efficacy of siRNA molecules in
treating human malignancies.
siRNA. siRNA sequences targeting hPLK1 (GenBank accession number
NM_005030) were selected using a standard siRNA design algorithm
(40, 63). Target sequences of PLK1 siRNAs are listed in Supplemental
Table 1. All siRNAs were synthesized as oligonucleotides by Integrated
DNA Technologies and received as desalted, deprotected RNA. Integrity
of annealed duplexes was confirmed by 20% PAGE. siRNAs were for-
mulated into SNALP comprising synthetic cholesterol (Sigma-Aldrich),
1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DSPC; Avanti Polar Lipids
Inc.), PEG-cDMA, and 1,2-dilinoleyloxy-3-(N,N-dimethyl)aminopropane
(DLinDMA) as previously described (26). Formulations used for in vivo
studies comprised a final lipid/siRNA mass ratio of 9:1. In the experi-
ments indicated, PEG-cDMA was substituted at equimolar concentra-
KSP2263-U/U induces distinct phenotypic changes typical of KSP inhi-
bition in hepatic tumor cells. Hepatic Neuro2a tumor histology 24 hours
after a single i.v. administration of (A) LUC-U/U or (B) KSP2263-U/U
siRNA formulated in SNALP (2 mg/kg siRNA). Images representative
of tumors from at least 6 individual mice. H&E staining reveals tumor
cells with aberrant nuclear figures typical of monoastral spindles or
apoptotic phenotypes in KSP2263-U/U–treated mice. Original magni-
fication, ×200. (C) Quantitative histology of H&E-stained tumor tissues
from mice treated with SNALP-formulated KSP2263-U/U at 4, 2, 1, or
0.5 mg/kg siRNA. Tumor cells with condensed chromatin structures
were scored as positive, and the number of such tumor cells was cal-
culated as a percentage of total tumor cells taken from 10 fields of
view. Positive cells included aberrant and typical mitotic and apop-
totic figures. Values are mean + SD of 3 mice. Mean SNALP particle
sizes were 88 (0.07 polydispersity) and 82 (0.08 polydispersity) nm for
KSP2263-U/U and LUC-U/U, respectively.
PLK1424-2A induces distinct phenotypic changes typical of PLK1
inhibition in hepatic tumor cells. H&E tumor histology 24 hours after
single i.v. administration of 2 mg/kg SNALP-formulated (A and C)
LUC-U/U or (B and D) PLK1424-2/A siRNA. Images are representa-
tive of tumors from at least 7 individual mice. Original magnification,
×200 (A and B); ×400 (C and D). Mean SNALP particle sizes were 72
(0.04 polydispersity) and 72 (0.02 polydispersity) nm for PLK1424-2/A
and LUC-U/U, respectively.
? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
tions with the C18 analogue PEG-cDSA (50). All SNALP were dialyzed
in PBS prior to use and were stable as a wet preparation stored at 4°C
for greater than 6 months.
Cell cultures. The cell lines Hep3B, HepG2, HT29, LS174T, and Neuro2a
were obtained from ATCC and cultured in the recommended basal medium
with 10% heat-inactivated FBS and 1% penicillin-streptomycin. For in vivo
tumor studies, Hep3B or Neuro2a cells were cultured in T175 flasks, har-
vested, and washed once in PBS prior to implantation. For in vitro siRNA
activity assays, cell lines were cultured in 96-well plates in the presence of
SNALP-formulated siRNAs. Cell viability was assessed after 72 hours using
the resazurin dye CellTiter-Blue (Promega). Corresponding PLK1 or KSP
mRNA–silencing activity was assessed in replicate plates at 24 hours by
bDNA assay (Panomics). The level of caspase-3 and caspase-7 enzyme activ-
ity in siRNA-treated cells was assessed using the fluorescent caspase-3/7
substrate (Z-DEVD)2-Rhodamine 110 reagent Apo-ONE (Promega).
In vitro immune stimulation assays. Mouse Flt3L dendritic cell cultures
were generated as described previously (64). In brief, bone marrow from
BALB/c mice was harvested in complete medium (RPMI 1640, 10% FBS,
1% penicillin/streptomycin, 2 mM l-glutamine, 1 mM sodium pyru-
vate, 25 mM HEPES, and 50 μM 2-mercaptoethanol), passed through a
70-micron strainer, and resuspended at 2 × 106 cells/ml in complete medi-
um supplemented with 100 ng/ml murine Flt3L (PeproTech). Cells were
seeded in 6-well plates, and 1 ml fresh Flt3L medium was added every
3 days. On day 9 of culture, nonadherent cells were plated into 96-well
plates at a concentration of 2 × 105 cells/well. Formulated siRNAs were
diluted in PBS and added to the cells for 24 hours before supernatants
were assayed for cytokines by ELISA.
In vivo immune stimulation assays. All animal studies were performed at
Protiva Biotherapeutics in accordance with Canadian Council on Animal
Care guidelines and following protocols approval by the Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committee of Protiva Biotherapeutics. Six- to eight-
week-old BALB/c mice were obtained from Harlan and subjected to a
2-week acclimation period prior to use. Mice were administered SNALP-
formulated siRNAs (2 mg/kg) in PBS via standard i.v. injection in the lat-
eral tail vein. Blood was collected by cardiac puncture and processed as
plasma for cytokine analysis. Liver and spleen were collected into RNAlater
(Sigma-Aldrich) for IFIT1 mRNA analysis.
Intrahepatic tumor models. Liver tumors were established in mice by direct
intrahepatic injection of Hep3B or Neuro2a tumor cells (45). Female
SCID/beige mice (Charles River) and male A/J mice (Jackson Laboratory)
were used as hosts for the Hep3B and Neuro2a tumors, respectively. Ani-
mals received Anafen by s.c. injection immediately prior to surgery. Indi-
vidual mice were anesthetized by isoflurane gas inhalation and eye lube
applied to prevent excessive eye drying. While mice were maintained under
Therapeutic activity of PLK1 SNALP containing either C14 or C18 PEG-lipids in s.c. tumors. (A) Inhibition of s.c. tumor growth by alternate
PLK1424-2/A SNALP formulations. Mice were administered PLK1424-2/A SNALP comprising either PEG-cDMA or PEG-cDSA (6 × 2 mg/kg
i.v.) between day 10 and day 21 after Hep3B tumor seeding. Values show mean tumor volumes (mm3) ± SD (n = 5). Control was LUC-U/U
siRNA SNALP (PEG-cDMA). (B) Corresponding hPLK1/hGAPDH mRNA ratio in s.c. Hep3B tumors following single administration (2 mg/kg) of
PLK1424-2/A or LUC-U/U siRNA; mean + SD (n = 4). (C) Dose response of PLK1424-2/A PEG-cDSA SNALP in Hep3B tumors. Mice bearing
established (~100 mm3) tumors were administered PLK1424-2/A PEG-cDSA SNALP (6 × 3, 6 × 1, or 6 × 0.5 mg/kg), LUC PEG-cDSA SNALP
(6 × 3 mg/kg), or PBS vehicle every 2–3 days between days 18 and 29 after seeding. Values represent mean tumor volumes (mm3) (n = 5).
Mean SNALP particle sizes were 81 (0.10 polydispersity), 71 (0.03 polydispersity), 82 (0.12 polydispersity), and 74 (0.05 polydispersity) nm for
PLK1424-2/A PEG-cDMA, PEG-cDSA, LUC-U/U PEG-cDMA, and PEG-cDSA, respectively.
672? The?Journal?of?Clinical?Investigation http://www.jci.org Volume 119 Number 3 March 2009
gas anesthesia, a single 1.5-cm incision across the midline was made below
the sternum, and the left lateral hepatic lobe was exteriorized. 1 × 106
Hep3B cells or 1 × 105 Neuro2a cells suspended in 25 μl PBS were injected
slowly into the lobe at a shallow angle using a Hamilton syringe and a
30-gauge needle. A swab was then applied to the puncture wound to stop
any bleeding prior to suturing. Mice were allowed to recover from anes-
thesia in a sterile cage and monitored closely for 2–4 hours before being
returned to conventional housing.
Eight to eleven days after tumor implantation, mice were randomized into
treatment groups. siRNA SNALP formulations or PBS vehicle control was
administered by standard i.v. injection via the lateral tail vein, calculated on a
mg siRNAs/kg basis according to individual animal weights (10 ml/kg injec-
tion volume). Body weights were then monitored throughout the duration
of the study as an indicator of developing tumor burden and treatment toler-
ability. For efficacy studies, defined humane end points were determined as a
surrogate for survival. Assessments were made by qualified veterinary techni-
cians based on a combination of clinical signs, weight loss, and abdominal
distension to define the day of euthanization due to tumor burden.
s.c. tumor models. Hep3B tumors were established in female SCID/beige
mice by s.c. injection of 3 × 106 cells in 50 μl PBS into the left-hind flank.
Mice were randomized into treatment groups 10–17 days after seeding
as tumors became palpable. siRNA SNALP formulations were adminis-
tered as described above. Tumors were measured in 2 dimensions (width ×
length) to assess tumor growth using digital calipers. Tumor volume was
calculated using the equation a × b × b/2, where a = largest diameter and
b = smallest diameter, and expressed as group mean ± SD.
Measurement of hPLK1 and GAPDH mRNA in tumor tissues. Tumors were har-
vested directly into RNAlater and stored at 4°C until processing. 100 mg
tumor tissue was homogenized in tissue and lysis solution (EPICENTRE
Biotechnologies) containing 50 mg/ml proteinase K (EPICENTRE Bio-
technologies) in a FastPrep tissue homogenizer followed by incubation
in a 65°C water bath for 15 minutes and centrifugation to clarify lysates.
mRNA analysis shown in Figure 5B was performed on purified RNA iso-
lated according to the 5′ RACE-PCR protocol. hPLK1 and GAPDH mRNA
were measured in tumor lystes by the QuantiGene bDNA assay (Panomics)
per the manufacturer’s instructions (QuantiGene 1.0 manual). Human-
specific PLK1 (GenBank accession number NM_005030) and GAPDH
(GenBank accession number NM_002046) probe sets were designed by
Panomics and demonstrated to have minimal cross-reactivity to the mouse
counterpart mRNA. Data were expressed as mean PLK1/GAPDH ratio ± SD
of individual animals. Tumor burden was assessed by homogenizing the
complete liver from tumor-bearing mice and measuring the total hGAPDH
signal (relative light units [RLU]) within the liver. Values were expressed as
hGAPDH RLU/mg total liver.
Measurement of IFIT1 mRNA in mouse tissues. Murine liver and spleen
were processed for bDNA assay to determine IFIT1 mRNA as described
above. The IFIT1 probe set was specific to mouse IFIT1 mRNA (posi-
tions 4–499, GenBank accession number NM_008331), and the GAPDH
probe set was specific to mouse GAPDH mRNA (positions 9–319, Gen-
Bank accession number NM_008084). Data are shown as the ratio of
IFIT1 RLU to GAPDH RLU.
5′ RLM RACE. Total RNA was isolated from in vitro–cultured cells by
direct lysis in TRIzol (Invitrogen). For in vivo tumor samples, tissues were
harvested into RNAlater (Sigma-Aldrich) and stored at 4°C for at least
24 hours prior to processing. 30 mg tumor tissue was homogenized in 1 ml
TRIzol, then processed to isolate total RNA. RNA quality was confirmed by
gel electrophoresis (1% agarose in Tris-borate buffer). 5′ RNA ligase–medi-
ated–RACE (5′ RLM RACE) was performed according to the Invitrogen
GeneRacer manual with modifications. Primers were designed using Primer3
software, version 0.3.0 (http://frodo.wi.mit.edu/). 10 μg total RNA was
mixed with 1.3 ng GeneRacer RNA adaptor (5′ CGACUGGAGCACGAG-
GACACUGACAUGGACUGAAGGAGUAGAAA 3′), heated to 65°C for
5 minutes, and snap-cooled on ice prior to ligation. RNA ligation was per-
formed at 37°C for 1 hour in 1× ligase buffer, 30 U RNaseOut (Invitrogen),
and 30 U RNA ligase (Ambion Inc.). Samples were then purified by diafil-
tration using Microcon 100 filters per the manufacturer’s instructions for
nucleic acids (Millipore). 10 μl of the RNA ligation product was reverse
transcribed using SuperScript III (Invitrogen) and a PLK1-specific primer
(5′-GGACAAGGCTGTAGAACCCACAC-3′) designed to hybridize to a
target site 3′ to the predicted PLK1424 siRNA–mediated mRNA cut site.
Reverse transcription was carried out at 55°C for 50 minutes followed
by inactivation at 70°C for 15 minutes and snap-cooling on ice. 5′ RLM
RACE-PCR was performed using forward (GR5) and reverse (PLK1424rev)
primers in the GeneRacer adaptor and the 3′ end of PLK1 mRNA, respec-
tively, to span the predicted PLK1424 cut site. PCR primer sequences were
GR5 5′-CGACTGGAGCACGAGGACACTGA-3′ and PLK1424rev 5′-CCA-
GATGCAGGTGGGAGTGAGGA-3′. PCR was performed using a Bio-Rad
iCycler using touchdown PCR conditions of 94°C for 2 minutes (1 cycle),
94°C for 30 seconds and 72°C for 1 minute (5 cycles), 94°C for 30 seconds
and 70°C for 1 minute (5 cycles), 94°C for 30 seconds, 65°C for 30 seconds
and 68°C for 1 minute (25 cycles), and 68°C for 10 minutes (1 cycle). PCR
products were run on a 2% TBE Agarose 1000 (Invitrogen) gel and stained
with 1 μg/ml ethidium bromide. The identity of PCR products was con-
firmed by direct sequencing of the gel-purified products using sequencing
primers within the GeneRacer RNA adaptor (5′-ACTGGAGCACGAGGA-
CAC-3′) and 3′ PLK1 mRNA (5′-GAGACGGGCAGGGATATAG-3′). Similar
assay conditions and primer design were employed to amplify the cleaved
KSP mRNA product by KSP2263 siRNA using the following unique prim-
ers: KSP-specific cDNA primer 5′-GCTGCTCTCGTGGTTCAGTTCTC-3′,
RACE primer KSPrev 5′-GCCCAACTACTGCTTAACTGGCAAA-3′, and
KSP sequencing primer 5′-TGGGTTTCCTTTATTGTCTT-3′.
Histology. Tumors were harvested from mice 24 hours after siRNA admin-
istration and fixed directly in 10% buffered formalin. Tissues were then pro-
cessed as paraffin-embedded tissue sections and stained with H&E using
conventional histological techniques. Quantitative analysis of stained sec-
tions was performed by counting the number of mitotic/apoptotic cells
displaying condensed chromatin structures as a percentage of total tumor
cells. Values for each tumor were derived from means of 10 fields of view
at ×400 magnification.
Cytokine ELISA. All cytokines were quantified using sandwich ELISA
kits. These were mouse IFN-α (PBL) and human and mouse IL-6 (BD
Statistics. Comparisons of survival times were performed on Kaplan-
Meier plots by the log-rank (Cox-Mantel) test. Differences were deemed
significant at P < 0.05.
The authors would like to acknowledge Ed Yaworski, Lloyd Jeffs,
Lina Huang, Felix Yuen, and James Heyes for siRNA formulation
and lipid synthesis. I. Tavakoli, J. Levi, Lina Hu, and A. Fronda were
supported by undergraduate research grants from the Natural Sci-
ences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Received for publication September 22, 2008, and accepted in
revised form December 17, 2008.
Address correspondence to: Ian MacLachlan, Tekmira Pharmaceu-
ticals Corporation, 100-8900 Glenlyon Parkway, Burnaby, British
Columbia V5J 5J8, Canada. Phone: (604) 419-3205; Fax: (604) 419-3201;
technical advance Download full-text
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