Int J Biol Sci 2020; 16(7):1238-1251. doi:10.7150/ijbs.39768

Research Paper

Axl-148b chimeric aptamers inhibit breast cancer and melanoma progression

Lorena Quirico1,2, Francesca Orso1,2,3, Carla L. Esposito4, Sofia Bertone1,2, Roberto Coppo1,2,*, Laura Conti1,2, Silvia Catuogno4, Federica Cavallo1,2, Vittorio de Franciscis4, Daniela Taverna1,2,3✉

1. Molecular Biotechnology Center (MBC), University of Torino, Torino, Italy
2. Dept. Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences, University of Torino, Torino, Italy
3. Center for Complex Systems in Molecular Biology and Medicine, University of Torino, Torino, Italy
4. Institute of Endocrinology and Experimental Oncology, CNR, Napoli, Italy
* Current address: Department of Clinical Bio-resource Research and Development, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan.

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Quirico L, Orso F, Esposito CL, Bertone S, Coppo R, Conti L, Catuogno S, Cavallo F, de Franciscis V, Taverna D. Axl-148b chimeric aptamers inhibit breast cancer and melanoma progression. Int J Biol Sci 2020; 16(7):1238-1251. doi:10.7150/ijbs.39768. Available from

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microRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs acting as negative regulators of gene expression and involved in tumor progression. We recently showed that inhibition of the pro-metastatic miR-214 and simultaneous overexpression of its downstream player, the anti-metastatic miR-148b, strongly reduced metastasis formation. To explore the therapeutic potential of miR-148b, we generated a conjugated molecule aimed to target miR-148b expression selectively to tumor cells. Precisely, we linked miR-148b to GL21.T, an aptamer able to specifically bind to AXL, an oncogenic tyrosine kinase receptor highly expressed on cancer cells. Axl-148b conjugate was able to inhibit migration and invasion of AXL-positive, but not AXL-negative, cancer cells, demonstrating high efficacy and selectivity in vitro. In parallel, expression of ALCAM and ITGA5, two miR-148b direct targets, was reduced. More importantly, axl-148b chimeric aptamers were able to inhibit formation and growth of 3D-mammospheres, to induce necrosis and apoptosis of treated xenotransplants, as well as to block breast cancer and melanoma dissemination and metastatization in mice. Relevantly, axl aptamer acted as specific delivery tool for miR-148b, but it also actively contributed to inhibit metastasis formation, together with miR-148b. In conclusion, our data show that axl-148b conjugate is able to inhibit tumor progression in an axl- and miR-148b-dependent manner, suggesting its potential development as therapeutic molecule.

Keywords: aptamer, miR-148b, AXL, targeted therapy, metastasis