The analysis of novel microRNA mimic sequences in cancer cells reveals lack of specificity in stem-loop RT-qPCR-based microRNA detection

Publication Type:
Journal Article
BMC Research Notes, 2017, 10 (1)
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© 2017 The Author(s). Objective: MicroRNAs are frequently downregulated in cancer, and restoring expression has tumour suppressive activity in tumour cells. Our recent phase I clinical trial investigated microRNA-based therapy in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Treatment with TargomiRs, microRNA mimics with novel sequence packaged in EGFR antibody-targeted bacterial minicells, revealed clear signs of clinical activity. In order to detect delivery of microRNA mimics to tumour cells in future clinical trials, we tested hydrolysis probe-based assays specific for the sequence of the novel mimics in transfected mesothelioma cell lines using RT-qPCR. Results: The custom assays efficiently and specifically amplified the consensus mimics. However, we found that these assays gave a signal when total RNA from untransfected and control mimic-transfected cells were used as templates. Further investigation revealed that the reverse transcription step using stem-loop primers appeared to introduce substantial non-specific amplification with either total RNA or synthetic RNA templates. This suggests that reverse transcription using stem-loop primers suffers from an intrinsic lack of specificity for the detection of highly similar microRNAs in the same family, especially when analysing total RNA. These results suggest that RT-qPCR is unlikely to be an effective means to detect delivery of microRNA mimic-based drugs to tumour cells in patients.
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