Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Silencing the epidermal growth factor receptor gene with RNAi may be developed as a potential therapy for non small cell lung cancer

Min Zhang1, Xin Zhang12, Chun-Xue Bai1, Xian-Rang Song2, Jie Chen1, Lei Gao1, Jie Hu1, Qun-Ying Hong1, Malcolm J West2 and Ming Q Wei2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pulmonary Diseases, Zhong Shan Hospital, Fudan University, Shanghai, PR China

2 Department of Medicine, University of Queensland, Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane, Australia

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Genetic Vaccines and Therapy 2005, 3:5  doi:10.1186/1479-0556-3-5

Published: 30 June 2005


Lung cancer has emerged as a leading cause of cancer death in the world. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for 75–80% of all lung cancers. Current therapies are ineffective, thus new approaches are needed to improve the therapeutic ratio. Double stranded RNA (dsRNA) -mediated RNA interference (RNAi) has shown promise in gene silencing, the potential of which in developing new methods for the therapy of NSCLC needs to be tested. We report here RNAi induced effective silencing of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene, which is over expressed in NSCLC. NSCLC cell lines A549 and SPC-A1 were transfected with sequence- specific dsRNA as well as various controls. Immune fluorescent labeling and flow cytometry were used to monitor the reduction in the production of EGFR protein. Quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR was used to detect the level of EGFR mRNA. Cell count, colony assay, scratch assay, MTT assay in vitro and tumor growth assay in athymic nude mice in vivo were used to assess the functional effects of EGFR silencing on tumor cell growth and proliferation. Our data showed transfection of NSCLC cells with dsRNA resulted in sequence specific silencing of EGFR with 71.31% and 71.78 % decreases in EGFR protein production and 37.04% and 54.92% in mRNA transcription in A549 and SPC-A1 cells respectively. The decrease in EGFR protein production caused significant growth inhibition, i.e.: reducing the total cell numbers by 85.0% and 78.3 %, and colony forming numbers by 63.3% and 66.8%. These effects greatly retarded the migration of NSCLC cells by more than 80% both at 24 h and at 48 h, and enhanced chemo-sensitivity to cisplatin by four-fold in A549 cells and seven-fold in SPC-A1. Furthermore, dsRNA specific for EGFR inhibited tumor growth in vivo both in size by 75.06 % and in weight by 73.08 %. Our data demonstrate a new therapeutic effect of sequence specific suppression of EGFR gene expression by RNAi, enabling inhibition of tumor proliferation and growth. However, in vivo use of dsRNA for gene transfer to tumor cells would be limited because dsRNA would be quickly degraded once delivered in vivo. We thus tested a new bovine lentiviral vector and showed lentivector-mediated RNAi effects were efficient and specific. Combining RNAi with this gene delivery system may enable us to develop RNAi for silencing EGFR into an effective therapy for NSCLC.

RNA interference; epidermal growth factor receptor; double stranded RNA; small interference RNA; non small cell lung cancer