Ribozymes are catalytically active nucleic acids capable of site-specific cleavage of target mRNAs. They have widely been employed as tools in functional studies and for therapeutic purposes. Different classes of ribozymes distinguished by size and mechanism of action have been discovered in natural systems or obtained by in vitro selection. After an introduction to different types of ribozymes with a special focus on the hammerhead and hairpin ribozyme, major challenges in the process of developing ribozymes for medical purposes will be described in the present review. Subsequently, examples of ribozyme applications in animal models for various diseases including cancer, viral infections, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular diseases will be given. The course of phase I and II clinical trials with ribozymes designed to treat patients with virus infections or cancer will be outlined. Finally, the current significance of ribozymes will be discussed in the light of the emergence of new powerful anti-mRNA strategies, particularly RNA interference (RNAi).
Keywords: ribozyme, deoxyribozyme, dnazyme, dna enzyme, hammerhead ribozyme, group I intron, hairpin ribozyme, catalytically active nucleic acids
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