Insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and its cognate receptor (IGF-1R) contribute to normal cell function and to tumorigenesis. The role of IGF-I signaling in tumor growth has been demonstrated in vivo using nucleic acid-based strategies. Here, we designed the first 10-23 DNAzymes directed against IGF-I mRNA. Unlike antisense approaches and RNA interference that require protein catalysis, DNAzymes catalyze protein-free RNA cleavage. We identified target sequences and measured catalytic properties of differently designed DNAzymes on short synthetic RNA targets and on in vitro transcribed IGF-I mRNA. The most efficient cleavers were then transfected into cells, and their inhibitory effect was analyzed using reporter gene assays. We found that increasing the size of DNAzyme flanking sequences and modifications of the termini with 2′-O-methyl residues improved cleavage rates of target RNAs. Modification of the catalytic loop with six 2′-O-methyl ribonucleotides at nonessential positions increased or decreased catalytic efficiency depending on the mRNA target site. In cells, DNAzymes with 2′-O-methyl-modified catalytic cores and flanking sequences were able to inhibit reporter gene activity because of specific recognition and cleavage of IGF-I mRNA sequences. Mutant DNAzymes with inactive catalytic cores were unable to block reporter gene expression, demonstrating that the RNA cleaving ability of 10-23 DNAzymes contributed to inhibitory mechanisms. Our results show that nuclease-resistant 2′-O-methyl-modified DNAzymes with high catalytic efficiencies are useful for inhibiting IGF-I gene function in cells.
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