Maneuvering single gene expression is not only an optimal way to study gene function but also an ambitious goal, which will lead to the treatment of a variety of human diseases whose main pathogenetic event is a genetic alteration. The recent efforts focusing on the genome project have led to array based, high throughput, gene expression analysis techniques that allow the study of complex molecular networks. Combining these powerful new technologies with modulation of gene expressions is making it possible to unravel complex molecular networks or, vice versa, to find new gene products responsible for pathological conditions on which exogenous modulation can be productive. Efficient and specific modulation of gene expression can be obtained either by producing transgenic or gene knockout organisms or cells (gene targeting), or by treating organisms or cells with short synthetic nucleic acid segments in antisense orientation with respect to the targeted mRNAs (mRNA targeting by antisense strategy). While genome manipulation is a time consuming and expensive approach, requiring invasive intervention, the “antisense strategy” is characterized by high flexibility resulting from safeness, specificity, reversibility, modulability, and low cost. The rationale of the antisense strategy is that, once one gene sequence is known, its expression can be silenced by application of synthetic single-strand nucleic acid segments (oligonucleotides) whose sequence is in antisense orientation compared to the targeted mRNA. Recently, this “informational” strategy has been boosted by the discovery of the RNA interference: a natural mechanism by which cells are thought to fight detrimental exogenous viruses and endogenous transposons. Despite promising futures, antisense-based therapeutics are far from being an established reality. This review analyses the recent improvements in antisense-based gene expression modulation, focuses on the treatment of diseases in the light of the past, and provides our personal findings on this topic.
Keywords: antisense oligonucleotides, ribozymes, rna, rna interference, posttranscriptional control, gene expression, gene function, gene therapy, therapeutics, drug
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