Trinucleotide repeat (TNR) expansions in the genome cause a number of degenerative diseases. A prominent TNR expansion involves the triplet CAG in the huntingtin (HTT) gene responsible for Huntington's disease (HD). Pathology is caused by protein and RNA generated from the TNR regions including small siRNA-sized repeat fragments. An inverse correlation between the length of the repeats in HTT and cancer incidence has been reported for HD patients. We now show that siRNAs based on the CAG TNR are toxic to cancer cells by targeting genes that contain long reverse complementary TNRs in their open reading frames. Of the 60 siRNAs based on the different TNRs, the six members in the CAG/CUG family of related TNRs are the most toxic to both human and mouse cancer cells. siCAG/CUG TNR-based siRNAs induce cell death in vitro in all tested cancer cell lines and slow down tumor growth in a preclinical mouse model of ovarian cancer with no signs of toxicity to the mice. We propose to explore TNR-based siRNAs as a novel form of anticancer reagents.
Over 80% of multiple-tested siRNAs and shRNAs targeting CD95 or CD95 ligand (CD95L) induce a form of cell death characterized by simultaneous activation of multiple cell death pathways preferentially killing transformed and cancer stem cells. We now show these si/shRNAs kill cancer cells through canonical RNAi by targeting the 3'UTR of critical survival genes in a unique form of off-target effect we call DISE (death induced by survival gene elimination). Drosha and Dicer-deficient cells, devoid of most miRNAs, are hypersensitive to DISE, suggesting cellular miRNAs protect cells from this form of cell death. By testing 4666 shRNAs derived from the CD95 and CD95L mRNA sequences and an unrelated control gene, Venus, we have identified many toxic sequences - most of them located in the open reading frame of CD95L. We propose that specific toxic RNAi-active sequences present in the genome can kill cancer cells.