Triplex-forming oligonucleotides (TFOs) have been shown to bind to target DNA sequences in several human gene promoters such as the c-myc oncogene, the epidermal growth factor receptor, and the dihydrofolate reductase genes. TFOs have been shown to inhibit transcription in vitro and gene expression in cell culture of the c-myc and other genes. The HER-2/neu oncogene, which is overexpressed in breast cancer and other human malignancies, contains a purine-rich sequence in its promoter, which is favorable for purine:purine:pyrimidine (R:R:Y) triplex formation. Although its function in the HER-2/neu promoter is unknown, this purine-rich site is homologous to a protein-binding sequence in the promoter of the epidermal growth factor receptor that is necessary for efficient transcription of this gene. We have shown that this sequence is a site for nuclear protein binding by incubation with a crude nuclear extract. We describe the formation of an interstrand triplex using a purine-rich oligonucleotide antiparallel to this purine-rich target sequence of the HER-2/neu promoter. Triplex formation by the oligonucleotide prevents protein binding to the target site in the HER-2/neu promoter in vitro. We have shown that this oligonucleotide is a potent and specific inhibitor of HER-2/neu transcription in an in vitro assay. The triplex target site contains a single pyrimidine base that does not conform to the R:R:Y triplex motif. In an attempt to abrogate the potentially destabilizing effects of this pyrimidine base on triplex formation, we have substituted an abasic linker for the pyrimidine residue in the triplex forming oligonucleotide. Triplex formation with the modified oligonucleotide appears to occur with approximately equivalent binding affinity. Triplex formation in the HER-2/neu oncogene promoter prevents transcription in vitro and may represent a future modality for specific inhibition of this gene in vivo.


S W Ebbinghaus, J E Gee, B Rodu, C A Mayfield, G Sanders, D M Miller


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