Gene knockdown using micro RNA (miRNA)-based vector constructs is likely to become a prominent gene therapy approach.
It was the aim of this study to improve the efficiency of gene knockdown through optimizing the structure of miRNA mimics.
Knockdown of two target genes was analyzed: CCR5 and green fluorescent protein. We describe here a novel and optimized
miRNA mimic design called mirGE comprising a lower stem length of 13 base pairs (bp), positioning of the targeting strand
on the 5′ side of the miRNA, together with nucleotide mismatches in upper stem positions 1 and 12 placed on the passenger
strand. Our mirGE proved superior to miR-30 in four aspects: yield of targeting strand incorporation into RNA-induced silencing
complex (RISC); incorporation into RISC of correct targeting strand; precision of cleavage by Drosha; and ratio of targeting
strand over passenger strand. A triple mirGE hairpin cassette targeting CCR5 was constructed. It allowed CCR5 knockdown
with an efficiency of over 90% upon single-copy transduction. Importantly, single-copy expression of this construct rendered
transduced target cells, including primary human macrophages, resistant to infection with a CCR5-tropic strain of HIV. Our
results provide new insights for a better knockdown efficiency of constructs containing miRNA. Our results also provide the
proof-of-principle that cells can be rendered HIV resistant through single-copy vector transduction, rendering this approach
more compatible with clinical applications.