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RNA-based drugs are an emerging class of therapeutics. They have the potential to regulate proteins, chromatin, as well as bind to specific proteins of interest in the form of aptamers. These aptamers are protected from nuclease attack by chemical modifications that enhance their stability for in vivo usage. However, nucleases are ubiquitous, and as we have yet to characterize the entire human microbiome it is likely that many nucleases are yet to be identified. Any novel, unusual enzymes present in vivo might reduce the efficacy of RNA-based therapeutics, even when they are chemically modified. We have previously identified an RNA-based aptamer capable of neutralizing a broad spectrum of clinical HIV-1 isolates and are developing it as a vaginal and rectal microbicide candidate. As a first step we addressed aptamer stability in the milieu of proteins present in these environments. Here we uncover a number of different nucleases that are able to rapidly degrade 2'-F-modified RNA. We demonstrate that the aptamer can be protected from the nuclease(s) present in the vaginal setting, without affecting its antiviral activity, by replacement of key positions with 2'-O-Me-modified nucleotides. Finally, we show that the aptamer can be protected from all nucleases present in both vaginal and rectal compartments using Zn(2+) cations. In conclusion we have derived a stable, antiviral RNA-based aptamer that could form the basis of a pre-exposure microbicide or be a valuable addition to the current tenofovir-based microbicide candidate undergoing clinical trials.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





2526 - 2535


Antiviral Agents, Aptamers, Nucleotide, Drug Evaluation, Preclinical, Female, HIV Infections, HIV-1, Humans, Male, Rectum, Ribonucleases, Vagina