Down-regulation of central glucocorticoid receptor expression using antisense oligonucleotide technology

  • Aminul Islam

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Endogenous glucocorticoids and serotonin have been implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. This thesis investigates the potential of downregulating expression of central Type II glucocorticoid receptors (GR) both in vitro and in vivo, with empirically-designed antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (ODN), to characterise GR modulation of 5-HT2A receptor expression using quantitative RT-PCR, Western blot analysis and radioligand binding. The functional consequence of GR downregulation is also determined by measuring 1-(2,5-dimethoxy 4-iodophenyl)-2-amino propane hydrochloride (DOI) mediated 5-HT2A receptor specific headshakes. Using a library of random antisense ODN probes, RNAse H accessibility mapping of T7-primed, in vitro transcribed GR mRNA revealed several potential cleavage sites and identified an optimally effect GR antisense ODN sequence of 21-mer length (GRAS5). In vitro efficacy studies using rat C6 glioma cells showed a 56% downregulation in GR mRNA levels and 80% downregulation in GR protein levels. In the same cells a 29% upregulation in 5-HT2A mRNA levels and 32% upregulation in 5-HT2A protein levels was revealed. This confirmed the optimal nature of the GRAS5 sequence to produce marked inhibition of GR gene expression, and also revealed GR modulation of the 50-HT2A receptor subtype in C6 glioma cells to be a tonic repression of receptor expression. The distribution of a fluorescently-labelled GRAS5 ODN was detected in diverse areas of the rat brain after single ICV administration, although this fluorescence signal was not sustained over a period of 5 days. However, fluorescently-labelled GRAS5 ODN, when formulated in polymer microspheres, showed diverse distribution in the brain which was maintained for 5 days following a single ICV administration. This produced no apparent neurotoxic effects on rat behaviour and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis homeostasis. Furthermore, a single polymer microsphere injection ICV proved to be an effective means of delivering antisense ODNs and this was adopted for the in vivo efficacy studies. In vivo characterisation of GRAS5 revealed marked downregulation of GR mRNA in rat brain regions such as the frontal cortex (26%), hippocampus (35%), and hypothalamus (39%). Downregulation of GR protein was also revealed in frontal cortex (67%), hippocampus (76%), and hypothalamus (80%). In the same animals upregulation of 5-HT2A mRNA levels was shown in frontal cortex (13%), hippocampus (7%), and hypothalamus (5%) while upregulation in 5-HT2A protein levels was shown in frontal cortex (21 %). This upregulation in 5-HT2A receptor density as a result of antisense-mediated inhibition of GR was further confirmed by a 55% increase in DOl-mediated 5-HT2A receptor specific headshakes. These results demonstrate that GR is
involved in tonic inhibitory regulation of 5-HT2A receptor expression and function in vivo, thus providing the potential to control 5-HT2A-linked disorders through corticosteroid manipulation. These experiments have therefore established an antisense approach which can be used to investigate pharmacological characteristics of receptors.
Date of AwardNov 2000
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSheila Handley (Supervisor), Kevin Thompson (Supervisor) & Saghir Akhtar (Supervisor)


  • antisense oligonucleotides
  • GR
  • 5-HT2A
  • CNS delivery
  • antisense design

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