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Inhibition of human cytomegalovirus major capsid protein expression and replication by ribonuclease P-associated external guide sequences


External guide sequences (EGSs) signify the short RNAs that induce ribonuclease P (RNase P), an enzyme responsible for processing the 5' termini of tRNA, to specifically cleave a target mRNA by forming a precursor tRNA-like complex. Hence, the EGS technology may serve as a potential strategy for gene-targeting therapy. Our previous studies have revealed that engineered EGS variants induced RNase P to efficiently hydrolyze target mRNAs. In the present research, an EGS variant was designed to be complementary to the mRNA coding for human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) major capsid protein (MCP), which is vital to form the viral capsid. In vitro, the EGS variant was about 80-fold more efficient in inducing human RNase P-mediated cleavage of the target mRNA than a natural tRNA-derived EGS. Moreover, the expressed variant and natural tRNA-originated EGSs led to a decrease of MCP expression by 98% and 73%-74% and a decrease of viral growth by about 10,000- and 200-fold in cells infected with HCMV, respectively. These results reveal direct evidence that the engineered EGS variant has higher efficiency in blocking the expression of HCMV genes and viral growth than the natural tRNA-originated EGS. Therefore, our findings imply that the EGS variant can be a potent candidate agent for the treatment of infections caused by HCMV.

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