Thursday, December 25, 2008

A new experimental drug "antagomir" (antisense oligonucleotide) as an anti- miR-21 agent..

MicroRNAs are small scraps of RNA comprising around 20 nucleotides and it is only recently that scientists have discovered their power which is they can regulate the expression (switching on and off) of a large number of human genes (they are like "master controllers"). And also these are the culprits (when microRNAs don't appear in the right place at the right time within cells) for diseases such as cancer, viral infections, inflammatory diseases and metabolic disorders. The potential to use them as targets for drugs is obvious and possibly explains why this is one of the fastest growing areas of development for new drugs and treatments.

Scientists already knew that microRNA was involved in switching genes on and off in the heart, but the underlying mechanisms and how they relate to the development of particular types of heart disease and their potential as drug targets were still relatively unknown.

Thum and colleagues discovered that miR-21 was expressed in the heart's fibroblast cells (cells that make the scaffolding of collagen or connective tissue that hold the shape of the organ) and were in greater numbers in lab mice bred to have heart failure and also in human tissue from patients who had heart failure.

In this study they showed that increasing expression of miR-21 changed the way that signals behaved in a previously unknown stress response pathway that involved the gene sprouty-1 and the MAP-kinase signaling pathway. In turn, increasing the activity of the MAP-kinase pathway led to a number of signs of heart failure, such as enhanced fibroblast survival, increased secretion of factors like fibroblast growth factor, tissue scarring (fibrosis), and cardiac dysfunction including cellular hypertrophy.

The researchers proved they could administer anti-miR-21 effectively to the heart by monitoring it with fluorescence staining. Then, in a mouse transaortic constriction model of human heart failure, they showed that anti-miR-21 silenced increased expression of miR-21 and corrected downstream changes in sprouty-1 and MAP-kinase signaling.

The interesting thing is their conclusion : Anti-miR-21, showed the most statistically significant improvement in the heart failure mouse model when given before induction of heart failure and for as long as three weeks afterward and it might be possible to target entire disease pathways with one drug. Contrats Dr. Thomas Thum.

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