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A novel approach for inhibition of HIV-1 by RNA interference: counteracting viral escape with a second generation of siRNAs

RNA interference (RNAi) is an evolutionary conserved gene silencing mechanism in which small interfering RNA (siRNA) mediates the sequence specific degradation of mRNA. The recent discovery that exogenously delivered siRNA can trigger RNAi in mammalian cells raises the possibility to use this technology as a therapeutic tool against pathogenic viruses. Indeed, it has been shown that siRNAs can be used effectively to inhibit virus replication. The focus of this review is on RNA interference strategies against HIV-1 and how this new technology may be developed into a new successful therapy. One of the hallmarks of RNAi, its sequence specificity, also presents a way out for the virus, as single nucleotide substitutions in the target region can abolish the suppression. Strategies to prevent the emergence of resistant viruses have been suggested and involve the targeting of conserved sequences and the simultaneous use of multiple siRNAs, similar to current highly active antiretroviral therapy. We present an additional strategy aimed at preventing viral escape by using a second generation of siRNAs that recognize the mutated target sites.

Author(s): Olivier ter Brake and Ben Berkhout*