Safe and Efficient Silencing with a Pol II, but Not a Pol III, Promoter Expressing an Artificial miRNA Targeting Human Huntingtin

Edith L. Pfister, University of Massachusetts
Kathryn O. Chase, University of Massachusettts
Huaming Sun, University of Massachusetts
Lori A. Kennington, University of Massachusetts

Medicine, Research & Experimental


Huntington's disease is a devastating, incurable neurodegenerative disease affecting up to 12 per 100,000 patients worldwide. The disease is caused by a mutation in the Huntingtin (Htt) gene. There is interest in reducing mutant Huntingtin by targeting it at the mRNA level, but the maximum tolerable dose and long-term effects of such a treatment are unknown. Using a self-complementary AAV9 vector, we delivered a mir-155based artificial miRNA under the control of the chicken beta-actin or human U6 promoter. In mouse brain, the artificial miRNA reduced the human huntingtin mRNA by 50%. The U6, but not the C beta A promoter, produced the artificial miRNA at supraphysiologic levels. Embedding the antisense strand in a U6-mir-30 scaffold reduced expression of the antisense strand but increased the sense strand. In mice treated with scAAV9U6- mir-155- HTT or scAAV9-CbA-mir-155-HTT, activated microglia were present around the injection site 1 month post-injection. Six months post-injection, mice treated with scAAV9-CbA-mir-155-HTT were indistinguishable from controls. Those that received scAAV9-U6-mir-155-HTT showed behavioral abnormalities and striatal damage. In conclusion, miRNA backbone and promoter can be used together to modulate expression levels and strand selection of artificial miRNAs, and in brain, the CbA promoter can provide an effective and safe dose of a human huntingtin miRNA.