Understanding of the roles of RNAs within the cell has changed and expanded dramatically during the past few years. Based on fundamentally new insights it is now increasingly possible to employ RNAs as highly valuable tools in molecular biology and medicine. At present, the most important therapeutic strategies are based on non-coding regulatory RNAs inducing RNA interference (RNAi) to silence single genes, and on modulation of cellular microRNAs (miRNAs) to alter complex gene expression patterns in diseased organs. Only recently it became possible to target therapeutic RNAi to specific organs via organotropic viral vector systems and we discuss the most recent strategies in this field, e.g. heart failure treatment by cardiac-targeted RNAi. Due to the peculiar biochemical properties of small RNA molecules, true therapeutic translation of results in vitro is more demanding than with small molecule drugs or proteins. Specifically, there is a critical requirement for extensive studies in animal models of human disease after pre-testing of the RNAi tools in vitro. This requirement likewise applies for miRNA modulations which have complex consequences in the recipient dependent on biochemical stability and distribution of the therapeutic RNA. Problems not yet fully solved are the prediction of targets and specificity of the RNA tools. However, major progress has been made to achieve their tissue-specific and regulatable expression, and breakthroughs in vector technologies from the gene therapy field have fundamentally improved safety and efficacy of RNA-based therapeutic approaches, too. In summary, insight into the molecular mechanisms of action of regulatory RNAs in combination with new delivery tools for RNA therapeutics will significantly expand our cardiovascular therapeutic repertoire beyond classical pharmacology.
Keywords: RNA drugs, RNA interference, microRNAs, regulatory RNAs, gene therapy
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