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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: The Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Volume 194, Issue 5, September 2001, Pages 571-580.

The published version is available at PMID:11535626. Copyright © The Rockefeller University Press


A mutation in the gene encoding for the liver mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2-2), present in some Asian populations, lowers or abolishes the activity of this enzyme and results in elevations in blood acetaldehyde upon ethanol consumption, a phenotype that greatly protects against alcohol abuse and alcoholism. We have determined whether the administration of antisense phosphorothioate oligonucleotides (ASOs) can mimic the low-activity ALDH2-2 Asian phenotype. Rat hepatoma cells incubated for 24 h with an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO-9) showed reductions in ALDH2 mRNA levels of 85% and ALDH2 (half-life of 22 h) activity of 55% equivalent to a >90% inhibition in ALDH2 synthesis. Glutamate dehydrogenase mRNA and activity remained unchanged. Base mismatches in the oligonucleotide rendered ASO-9 virtually inactive, confirming an antisense effect. Administration of ASO-9 (20 mg/kg/day for 4 d) to rats resulted in a 50% reduction in liver ALDH2 mRNA, a 40% inhibition in ALDH2 activity, and a fourfold (P < 0.001) increase in circulating plasma acetaldehyde levels after ethanol (1 g/kg) administration. Administration of ASO-9 to rats by osmotic pumps led to an aversion (-61%, P < 0.02) to ethanol. These studies provide a proof of principle that specific inhibition of gene expression can be used to mimic the protective effects afforded by the ALDH2-2 phenotype.

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