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Inhibition of Murine Cytomegalovirus Infection in Animals by RNase P-Associated External Guide Sequences


External guide sequence (EGS) RNAs are associated with ribonuclease P (RNase P), a tRNA processing enzyme, and represent promising agents for gene-targeting applications as they can direct RNase-P-mediated cleavage of a target mRNA. Using murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) as a model system, we examined the antiviral effects of an EGS variant, which was engineered using in vitro selection procedures. EGSs were used to target the shared mRNA region of MCMV capsid scaffolding protein (mCSP) and assemblin. In vitro, the EGS variant was 60 times more active in directing RNase P cleavage of the target mRNA than the EGS originating from a natural tRNA. In MCMV-infected cells, the variant reduced mCSP expression by 92% and inhibited viral growth by 8,000-fold. In MCMV-infected mice hydrodynamically transfected with EGS-expressing constructs, the EGS variant was more effective in reducing mCSP expression, decreasing viral production, and enhancing animal survival than the EGS originating from a natural tRNA. These results provide direct evidence that engineered EGS variants with higher targeting activity in vitro are also more effective in reducing gene expression in animals. Furthermore, our findings imply the possibility of engineering potent EGS variants for therapy of viral infections.

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