BMC Research Notes 2017 November [Link]

Winata P, Williams M McGowan E, Nassif N, van Zandwijk N, Reid G


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.
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.