Oligonucleotide therapies are currently experiencing a resurgence driven by advances in backbone chemistry and discoveries of novel therapeutic pathways that can be uniquely and efficiently modulated by the oligonucleotide drugs. A quarter of a century has passed since oligonucleotides were first applied in living mammalian brain to modulate gene expression. Despite challenges in delivery to the brain, multiple oligonucleotide-based compounds are now being developed for treatment of human brain disorders by direct delivery inside the blood brain barrier (BBB). Notably, the first new central nervous system (CNS)-targeted oligonucleotide-based drug (nusinersen/Spinraza) was approved by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late 2016 and several other compounds are in advanced clinical trials. Human testing of brain-targeted oligonucleotides has highlighted unusual pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of these compounds, including complex active uptake mechanisms, low systemic exposure, extremely long half-lives, accumulation and gradual release from subcellular depots. Further work on oligonucleotide uptake, development of formulations for delivery across the BBB and relevant disease biology studies are required for further optimization of the oligonucleotide drug development process for brain applications.
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RNA-related work in C.W.'s laboratory is currently funded by NIH grants DA035592, NS071674 and AA023781.
O. Khorkova is employed by OPKO Health.
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Khorkova, O., Wahlestedt, C. Oligonucleotide therapies for disorders of the nervous system. Nat Biotechnol 35, 249–263 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3784
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