Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the major etiological agent of non-A, non-B hepatitis. Current therapies are not effective in all patients and can result in the generation of resistant mutants, leading to a need for new therapeutic options. HCV has an RNA genome that contains a well-defined and highly conserved secondary structure within the 5′-untranslated region. This structure is known as the internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) and is necessary for translation and viral replication. Here, we test the hypothesis that anti-sense peptide nucleic acid (PNA) and locked nucleic acid (LNA) oligomers can bind key IRES sequences and block translation. We used lipid-mediated transfections to introduce PNAs and LNAs into cells. Our data suggest that PNAs and LNAs can invade critical sequences within the HCV IRES and inhibit translation. Seventeen base PNA or LNA oligomers targeting different regions of the HCV IRES demonstrated a sequence-specific dose-response inhibition of translation with EC50 values of 50-150 nM. Inhibition was also achieved by PNAs ranging in length from 15 to 21 bases. IRES-directed inhibition of gene expression widens the range of mechanisms for anti-sense inhibition by PNAs and LNAs and may provide further therapeutic lead compounds for the treatment of HCV.
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