miR-221/222 are highly homologous microRNAs (miRNAs) whose upregulation has been found in several malignancies, including multiple myeloma (MM). Both miRNAs are thought to promote cell proliferation via down-regulation of p27 and/or p57, two negative regulators of G1 to S phase cell cycle progression.

We proved that silencing of both miRNAs results in significant anti-MM activity and in downregulation of canonical targets both in vitro and in vivo. In the aim to progress to clinical translation, we designed an original 13mer synthetic inhibitor, specific for systemic delivery, named LNA-i-miR-221, which took advantage from both locked nucleic acid (LNA) technology and phosphorothioate backbone, for increasing the seed sequence binding and nuclease resistance in vivo, respectively. Since no data are presently available, we evaluated the specificity of LNA-i-miR-221 to inhibit endogenous miR-221 and the pharmacokinetic properties (i.e. tissue distribution) in mice and Cynomolgus monkeys.

We demonstrated that LNA-i-miR-221 inhibit growth and survival of MM cells bearing high miR-221 levels. Moreover, LNA-i-miR-221-mediated silencing of miR-221 triggered upregulation of p27Kip1 mRNA and protein, evaluated by q-RT-PCR and western blotting, respectively. In vivo, i.p.treatment with 25 mg/kg of LNA-i-miR-221 reduced tumor growth in SCID/NOD mice bearing MM xenografts. Tumors and vital organs (including liver, kidney, bone marrow and heart) were harvested from treated animals and evaluated for pharmacokinetics purposes using in situ hybridization (ISH) assay. After a single i.p. dose of 25 mg/kg, we detected the presence of LNA-i-miR-221 from 2 up to 7 days in tumors and mouse tissues. Interestingly, no toxicity was observed even after long-lasting presence of the inhibitors in vital organs. We also evaluated the LNA-i-miR-221 half-life in mouse plasma using HPLC-MS/MS, which confirmed the rapid uptake of LNA-i-miR-221 in tissues. To evaluate the maximum tolerated doses, in vivo dose escalation treatments was performed using doses from 10 to 100 mg/kg delivered at days 1,4,8,15,22. All treatments were well tolerated. No changes in mice behavior or organ toxicity were observed in treated mice.

Finally, a pilot toxicity study was performed in Cynomolgus monkeys. PK results demonstrated that LNA-i-miR-221 has a short serum half-life with a rapid tissue uptake and minimum urinary escretion.

In conclusion, our results suggest that LNA-i-miR-221 is a promising anti-MM agent associated with a safety profile in mice and in monkeys, supporting the rationale for development of this novel miR-221 inhibitor in early clinical trials.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.