Research Papers:

Apoptosis induced by a HIPK2 full-length-specific siRNA is due to off-target effects rather than prevalence of HIPK2-Δe8 isoform

Giuliana Di Rocco, Alessandra Verdina, Veronica Gatti, Ilaria Virdia, Gabriele Toietta, Matilde Todaro, Giorgio Stassi and Silvia Soddu _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:1675-1686. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.6423

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Giuliana Di Rocco1, Alessandra Verdina1, Veronica Gatti1, Ilaria Virdia1, Gabriele Toietta1, Matilde Todaro2, Giorgio Stassi2, Silvia Soddu1

1Department of Research, Advanced Diagnostics, and Technological Innovation, Regina Elena National Cancer Institute, Rome, Italy

2Department of Surgical and Oncological Sciences, Cellular and Molecular Pathophysiology Laboratory, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy

Correspondence to:

Silvia Soddu, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: HIPK2, alternative splicing isoforms, colorectal cancer, siRNA therapeutic application, off-target effects

Received: July 27, 2015     Accepted: November 15, 2015     Published: November 28, 2015


Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are widely used to study gene function and extensively exploited for their potential therapeutic applications. HIPK2 is an evolutionary conserved kinase that binds and phosphorylates several proteins directly or indirectly related to apoptosis. Recently, an alternatively spliced isoform skipping 81 nucleotides of exon 8 (Hipk2-Δe8) has been described. Selective depletion of Hipk2 full-length (Hipk2-FL) with a specific siRNA that spares the Hipk2-Δe8 isoform has been shown to strongly induce apoptosis, suggesting an unpredicted dominant-negative effect of Hipk2-FL over the Δe8 isoform. From this observation, we sought to take advantage and assessed the therapeutic potential of generating Hipk2 isoform unbalance in tumor-initiating cells derived from colorectal cancer patients. Strong reduction of cell viability was induced in vitro and in vivo by the originally described exon 8-specific siRNA, supporting a potential therapeutic application. However, validation analyses performed with additional exon8-specific siRNAs with different stabilities showed that all exon8-targeting siRNAs can induce comparable Hipk2 isoform unbalance but only the originally reported e8-siRNA promotes cell death. These data show that loss of viability does not depend on the prevalence of Hipk2-Δe8 isoform but it is rather due to microRNA-like off-target effects.

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