Telomerase is expressed in the majority (>85%) of tumors, but has restricted expression in normal tissues. Long-term telomerase inhibition in malignant cells results in progressive telomere shortening and reduction in cell proliferation. Here we report the synthesis and characterization of radiolabeled oligonucleotides that target the RNA subunit of telomerase, hTR, simultaneously inhibiting enzymatic activity and delivering radiation intracellularly. Oligonucleotides complementary (Match) and noncomplementary (Scramble or Mismatch) to hTR were conjugated to diethylenetriaminepentaacetic dianhydride (DTPA), allowing radiolabeling with the Auger electron-emitting radionuclide indium-111 (111In). Match oligonucleotides inhibited telomerase activity with high potency, which was not observed with Scramble or Mismatch oligonucleotides. DTPA-conjugation and 111In-labeling did not change telomerase inhibition. In telomerase-positive cancer cells, unlabeled Match oligonucleotides had no effect on survival, however, 111In-labeled Match oligonucleotides significantly reduced clonogenic survival and upregulated the DNA damage marker γH2AX. Minimal radiotoxicity and DNA damage was observed in telomerase-negative cells exposed to 111In-Match oligonucleotides. Match oligonucleotides localized in close proximity to nuclear Cajal bodies in telomerase-positive cells. In comparison with Match oligonucleotides, 111In-Scramble or 111In-Mismatch oligonucleotides demonstrated reduced retention and negligible impact on cell survival. This study indicates the therapeutic activity of radiolabeled oligonucleotides that specifically target hTR through potent telomerase inhibition and DNA damage induction in telomerase-expressing cancer cells and paves the way for the development of novel oligonucleotide radiotherapeutics targeting telomerase-positive cancers. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings present a novel radiolabeled oligonucleotide for targeting telomerase-positive cancer cells that exhibits dual activity by simultaneously inhibiting telomerase and promoting radiation-induced genomic DNA damage.
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