Antisense oligomers initially showed promise as compounds to modify gene expression, primarily through RNaseH induced degradation of the target transcript. Expansion of the field has led to new chemistries capable of invoking different mechanisms, including suppression of protein synthesis by translational blockade and gene silencing using short interfering RNAs. It is now apparent that the majority of the eukaryotic genome is transcribed and non-protein coding RNAs have been implicated in the regulation of gene expression at many levels. This review considers potential therapeutic applications of antisense oligomers to modify gene expression, primarily by interfering with the process of exon recognition and intron removal during gene transcript splicing. While suppression of gene expression will be necessary to address some conditions, it is likely that antisense oligomer splice modification will have extensive clinical application. Pre-mRNA splicing is a tightly co-ordinated, multifactorial process that can be disrupted by antisense oligomers in a highly specific manner to suppress aberrant splicing, remove exons to by-pass nonsense or frame-shifting mutations or influence exon selection to alter spliceoform ratios. Manipulation of splicing patterns has been applied to a diverse range of conditions, including β-thalassemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy and certain cancers. Alternative exon usage has been identified as a major mechanism for generating diversity from a limited repertoire of genes in higher eukaryotes. Considering that the majority of all human primary gene transcripts are reportedly alternatively spliced, intervention at the level of pre-mRNA processing is likely to become increasingly significant in the fight against genetic and acquired disorders.
Keywords: Alternative splicing, complex disorders, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, inherited disease, isoform, mutation suppression, RNA, spliceosome
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