Despite the key role played by the RNase H of human immunodeficiency virus-1 reverse transcriptase (HIV-1 RT) in viral proliferation, only a few inhibitors of RNase H have been reported. Using in vitro combinatorial selection methods and the RNase H domain of the HIV RT, we have selected double-stranded DNA thioaptamers (aptamers with selected thiophosphate backbone substitutions) that inhibit RNase H activity and viral replication. The selected thioaptamer sequences had a very high proportion of G residues. The consensus sequence for the selected thioaptamers showed G clusters separated by single residues at the 5′-end of the sequence. Gel electrophoresis mobility shift assays and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed that the selected thioaptamer binds to the isolated RNase H domain, but did not bind to a structurally similar RNase H from Escherichia coli. The lead thioaptamer, R12-2, showed specific binding to HIV-1 RT with a binding constant (Kd) of 70 nM. The thioaptamer inhibited the RNase H activity of intact HIV-1 RT. In cell culture, transfection of thioaptamer R12-2 (0.5 μg/mL) markedly inhibited viral production and exhibited a dose response of inhibition with R12-2 concentrations ranging from 0.03 to 2.0 μg/mL (IC50 < 100 nM). Inhibition was also seen across a wide range of virus inoculum, ranging from a multiplicity of infection (moi) of 0.0005 to 0.05, with a reduction of the level of virus production by more than 50% at high moi. Suppression of virus was comparable to that seen with AZT when moi ≤ 0.005.
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