A multiplexed miRNA and transgene expression platform for simultaneous repression and expression of protein coding sequences†
Knockdown of single or multiple gene targets by RNA interference (RNAi) is necessary to overcome escape mutants or isoform redundancy. It is also necessary to use multiple RNAi reagents to knockdown multiple targets. It is also desirable to express a transgene or positive regulatory elements and inhibit a target gene in a coordinated fashion. This study reports a flexible multiplexed RNAi and transgene platform using endogenous intronic primary microRNAs (pri-miRNAs) as a scaffold located in the green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a model for any functional transgene. The multiplexed intronic miRNA – GFP transgene platform was designed to co-express multiple small RNAs within the polycistronic cluster from a Pol II promoter at more moderate levels to reduce potential vector toxicity. The native intronic miRNAs are co-transcribed with a precursor GFP mRNA as a single transcript and presumably cleaved out of the precursor-(pre) mRNA by the RNA splicing machinery, spliceosome. The spliced intron with miRNA hairpins will be further processed into mature miRNAs or small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) capable of triggering RNAi effects, while the ligated exons become a mature messenger RNA for the translation of the functional GFP protein. Data show that this approach led to robust RNAi-mediated silencing of multiple Renilla Luciferase (R-Luc)-tagged target genes and coordinated expression of functional GFP from a single transcript in transiently transfected HeLa cells. The results demonstrated that this design facilitates the coordinated expression of all mature miRNAs either as individual miRNAs or as multiple miRNAs and the associated protein. The data suggest that, it is possible to simultaneously deliver multiple negative (miRNA or shRNA) and positive (transgene) regulatory elements. Because many cellular processes require simultaneous repression and activation of downstream pathways, this approach offers a platform technology to achieve that dual manipulation efficiently. In conclusion, the current platform technology offers a miRNA/shRNA scaffold for the expression of combinations of native or synthetic intronic miRNAs as singletons or polycistrons for combinatorial multiplexed RNAi silencing or RNA-based gene therapy applications.