Monday, July 14, 2008

Journal Club: Structural Basis for Double-Stranded RNA Recognition by TLR3 and Activation

The recent Nature paper by Ambati and colleagues raised some concerns about whether non-specific inflammatory responses due to activation of TLR3 by double-stranded RNAs, the inducers of RNAi, would represent a significant, if not insurmountable obstacle towards the development of RNAi Therapeutics. While the short answer was no, since most in the field had already recognized the need to screen against the capacity of RNAi triggers to induce immune responses, determining the rules activating TLR3 and similar molecular patterns should facilitate the more efficient design of safe and potent RNAi triggers. Recent papers on TLR3 structural biology should do just that.

In an April edition in the journal Science, Liu and colleagues from the NIH report on the structure of mouse TLR3 with its double-stranded RNA substrate (note that mouse and human TLR3 are very similar). The structure suggests that a 40-50 base-pair double-strand RNA is optimal for binding by TLR3 thereby inducing TLR3 dimerization and downstream signaling. The fact that one of the dsRNA binding patches contains a number of pH-sensitive histidines further suggest why TLR3 signaling is most robust following uptake into endosome which provides for an acidic compartment. Overall, the structure supports previous observations that dsRNAs longer than what is typically used for siRNAs are better inducers of TLR3; however it does not explain well how smaller siRNAs may also induce such signaling.

An explanation for this is provided by structure-based mutagenesis studies by Pirher and colleagues from the University of Ljublijana (Slovenia). In this paper, they identify two dsRNA-binding patches within a TLR3 monomer and also find and explain why B-type helices, as typically found in DNA, only bind to one of the two binding patches and therefore fail to induce, and even competitively inhibit TLR3. This is in contrast to dsRNAs that typically assume A-type helical formation and bind both patches. With this the authors come up with a model to explain how TLR3 dimers bind to shorter double-stranded RNAs by assuming alternative conformations with ddimerization on the shorter dsRNAs being less efficient.

These findings immediately suggest various ways to avoid TLR3 signaling. The simplest would be to stay below 21 nucleotides, and it is well known that 20 nucleotide siRNAs are equally potent inducers of RNAi. Unlike the somewhat disgruntled 1st commentator following my previous blog would like to suggest, 15-21 nucleotide siRNAs as covered by one version of Kreutzer-Limmer in Europe are therefore therapeutically highly relevant. Generally, keeping it short is the probably easiest way to avoid non-specific immune responses. Next to sequence length, limited modifications of the siRNA at sites where they interact with TLR3 as shown by the structure should abolish any TLR3 activation and possibly serve to antagonize TLR3, similar to what has been found for 2’o-methylation and TLR7. Likewise, changing the helical shape at one end which may also have the added benefit in encouraging asymmetric RiSC loading may be a third strategy of circumventing TLR3 activation.

It is clear from reading the papers that much of the motivation for performing these is related to RNAi Therapeutics. These are findings that are not just theoretical in nature, but very much of practical relevance. The speed with which this progress has been achieved illustrates the vigor and the many tools brought to bear by the scientific community on making RNAi Therapeutics become a reality.

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By Dirk Haussecker. All rights reserved.

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