Cellular uptake and biological activity of synthetic hammerhead ribozymes

  • Patricia L. Fell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) is a highly malignant form of brain cancer for
which there is no effective cure. The over-expression of a number of genes, including the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFr), has been implicated as a causative factor of tumourigenesis. Ribozymes are a class of ribonucleic acid that possess enzymatic properties. They can inhibit gene-expression in a highly sequence specific manner by catalysing the trans-cleavage of target RNA.
The potential use of synthetic hammerhead ribozymes as novel anti-brain tumour agents was investigated in this study. The successful use of synthetic, exogenously administered ribozymes for such applications will require chemical modifications that improve biological stability and a fundamental understanding of cellular uptake mechanisms. Chimeric 2'-O-methylated hammerhead ribozymes proved to be significantly more stable (>4000-fold) in serum than unmodified RNA ribozymes and exhibited high in vitro catalytic activity. The cellular association of an internally [32P]-labelled 2'-O-methylated chimeric ribozyme in U87-MG human glioma cells was temperature-, energy- and pH-dependent and involved an active process that could be competed with a variety of polyanions. Indications are that the predominant mechanism of uptake is by adsorptive and / or receptor mediated endocytosis. Twenty 2'-O-methylated chimeric ribozymes were designed to cleave various sites along the EGFr mRNA. In vitro, 18 ribozymes exhibited high activity in cleaving a complementary short substrate. Using LipofectAMINETM as a delivery agent, the efficacy of these ribozymes was evaluated in the A431 cell line, which expresses amplified levels of EGFr. Studies revealed that although the ribozymes were taken up by the cells and remained stable over a period of 4 days, no significant reduction in either EGFr expression or cell proliferation was evident. The presence of telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein responsible for telomere elongation, has been strongly associated with tumour progression. The biological activity of a 2'-O-methylated ribozyme targeted against the RNA component of telomerase was determined. The ribozyme exhibited specific dose-dependent inhibition of telomerase activity in U87-MG cell lysates with an IC50 of –4μM. When 4μM ribozyme was delivered to intact U87-MG cells, complexed to LipofectAMINETM, telomerase activity was significantly reduced to 74.5±4.17% of the untreated control. Free ribozyme showed no significant inhibitory effect demonstrating the importance of an appropriate delivery system for optimum delivery of exogenously administered ribozymes.

Date of AwardSept 1999
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSaghir Akhtar (Supervisor)


  • ribozymes
  • cellular uptake
  • EGFr
  • telomerase
  • glioblastoma multiforme

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