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Title:  FADD-like anti-apoptotic molecules, methods of using the same, and compositions for and methods of making the same

United States Patent:  6,576,751

Issued:  June 10, 2003

Inventors:  Alnemri; Emad S. (Ambler, PA)

Assignee:  Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia, PA)

Appl. No.:  723450

Filed:  November 28, 2000

Abstract

Two FADD-like anti-apoptotic proteins that regulate Fas/TNFR1- or UV-induced apoptosis are disclosed. Nucleotide sequences encoding the proteins are disclosed as are methods of using the nucleic acid molecules and making the proteins. Pharmaceutical compositions and methods of using the same are disclosed. Reagents, kits and methods of identifying compounds that inhibit anti-apoptotic activity of the proteins and methods of identifying compounds that inhibit binding activity of the proteins are disclosed.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

As used herein, the term "FLAMES" is meant to refer to the two FADD-like apoptotic/anti-apoptotic molecules that have been isolated and cloned and discovered to regulate Fas/TNFR1- or UV-induced apoptosis.

As used herein, FLAME-1 refers to one of the two FLAMEs. The amino acid sequence of FLAME-1 is set forth in SEQ ID NO:2. The cloned cDNA which encodes FLAME-1 is set forth in SEQ ID NO:1.

As used herein, FLAME-2 refers to one of the two FLAMEs. The amino acid sequence of FLAME-2 is set forth in SEQ ID NO:4. The cloned CDNA which encodes FLAME-2 is set forth in SEQ ID NO:3.

Two novel human anti-apoptotic proteins that contain FADD/Mort1 DED-homology regions, designated FLAME-1 and FLAME-2 have been identified and cloned. FLAME-1, although most similar in structure to Mch4 and Mch5, does not possess caspase activity, but can interact specifically with FADD, Mch4, Mchs and FLAME-2. FLAME-1 is recruited to the Fas receptor complex and can abrogate Fas/TNF-induced apoptosis upon expression in Fas/TNF-sensitive MCF-7 cells. FLAME-2, on the other hand, is similar in structure to FADD, but its C-terminal region does not have a death domain homology. It interacts weakly with Mch4 and Mch5 but does not interact with FADD. It can abrogate UV-induced apoptosis and to a lesser degree inhibit Fas/TNFR-induced apoptosis in the same cell line. These findings identify two novel endogenous control points that regulate Fas/TNFR1- and UV-mediated apoptosis.

The discovery of the two FLAMEs provides the means to design and discover specific inhibitors, activators and substrates of these anti-apoptotic molecules. According to the present invention, FLAMEs may be used to screen compounds for inhibitors, activators or substrates. Inhibitors are useful as apoptotic agents. Activators are useful as anti-apoptotic agents. FLAME-1 and FLAME-2 proteins are useful as reagents in assays to identify inhibitors and activators as well as in binding assays such as FLAME-1 binding assays with FADD, Mch4, Mch5 and FLAME-2 and FLAME-2 binding assays with Mch4, Mch5 and FLAME-1. FLAME-1 may also be useful as a substrate for caspase in assays to identify caspase inhibitors. Kits are provided for screening compounds for FLAMEs inhibitors. Kits are provided for screening compounds for FLAMEs activators. Kits are provided for screening compounds for FLAME binding assays. The nucleotide sequences that encode the FLAMEs are disclosed herein and allow for the production of pure protein, the design of probes which specifically hybridize to nucleic acid molecules that encode the FLAMEs and antisense compounds to inhibit transcription of FLAMEs. Anti-FLAME-1 and anti-FLAME-2 antibodies are provided. Anti-FLAME-1 antibodies may be inhibitors of FLAME-1 and may be used in methods of isolating pure FLAME-1 and methods of inhibiting FLAME-1 activity. Anti-FLAME-2 antibodies may be inhibitors of FLAME-2 and may be used in methods of isolating pure FLAME-2 and methods of inhibiting FLAME-1 activity.

The present invention provides substantially purified FLAMEs, FLAME-1 and FLAME-2 which have amino acid sequences consisting of: SEQ ID NO:2 and SEQ ID NO:4, respectively. FLAME-1 and FLAME-2 can be isolated from natural sources, produced by recombinant DNA methods or synthesized by standard protein synthesis techniques.

Antibodies which specifically bind to a particular FLAME may be used to purify the protein from natural sources using well known techniques and readily available starting materials. Such antibodies may also be used to purify the FLAME from material present when producing the protein by recombinant DNA methodology. The present invention relates to antibodies that bind to an epitope which is present on a FLAME selected from the group consisting of: FLAME-1--SEQ ID NO:2 and FLAME-2--SEQ ID NO:4. As used herein, the term "antibody" is meant to refer to complete, intact antibodies, and Fab fragments and F(ab)2 fragments thereof. Complete, intact antibodies include monoclonal antibodies such as murine monoclonal antibodies, chimeric antibodies and humanized antibodies. In some embodiments, the antibodies specifically bind to an epitope of only one of: FLAME-1 and FLAME-2. Antibodies that bind to an epitope which is present on a FLAME are useful to isolate and purify the FLAME from both natural sources or recombinant expression systems using well known techniques such as affinity chromatography. Such antibodies are useful to detect the presence of such protein in a sample and to determine if cells are expressing the protein.

The production of antibodies and the protein structures of complete, intact antibodies, Fab fragments and F(ab)2 fragments and the organization of the genetic sequences that encode such molecules are well known and are described, for example, in Harlow, E. and D. Lane (1988) ANTIBODIES: A Laboratory Manual, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. which is incorporated herein by reference. Briefly, for example, the FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 protein, or an immunogenic fragment thereof is injected into mice. The spleen of the mouse is removed, the spleen cells are isolated and fused with immortalized mouse cells. The hybrid cells, or hybridomas, are cultured and those cells which secrete antibodies are selected. The antibodies are analyzed and, if found to specifically bind to the FLAME, the hybridoma which produces them is cultured to produce a continuous supply of antibodies.

Using standard techniques and readily available starting materials, a nucleic acid molecule that encodes each of the FLAMEs may be isolated from a cDNA library, using probes or primers which are designed using the nucleotide sequence information disclosed in SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. The present invention relates to an isolated nucleic acid molecule that comprises a nucleotide sequence that encodes a FLAME selected from the group consisting of FLAME-1 and FLAME-2 that comprises the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:2 and SEQ ID NO:4, respectively. In some embodiments, the nucleic acid molecules consist of a nucleotide sequence that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. In some embodiments, the nucleic acid molecules comprise the nucleotide sequence that consists of the coding sequence in SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. In some embodiments, the nucleic acid molecules consist of the nucleotide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. The isolated nucleic acid molecules of the invention are useful to prepare constructs and recombinant expression systems for preparing the FLAMEs of the invention.

A cDNA library may be generated by well known techniques. A cDNA clone which contains one of the nucleotide sequences set out is identified using probes that comprise at least a portion of the nucleotide sequence disclosed in SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. The probes have at least 16 nucleotides, preferably 24 nucleotides. The probes are used to screen the cDNA library using standard hybridization techniques. Alternatively, genomic clones may be isolated using genomic DNA from any human cell as a starting material. In either cDNA or genomic probes, the sequence of the probe is unique to the FLAME that it is designed to hybridize to. That is, the sequence is selected to be unique relative to other known sequences. Unique sequences may be identified by comparing the sequences set forth in SEQ ID NO:1 and SEQ ID NO:3 to each other and to the sequences set forth in sequence data bases such as Genbank. Unique fragments of SEQ ID NO:1 and SEQ ID NO:3 are useful because they can hybridize to clones without cross hybridizing to other non-FLAME encoding sequences.

The present invention relates to isolated nucleic acid molecules that comprise a nucleotide sequence identical or complementary to a unique fragment of SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3 which is at least 10 nucleotides. In some embodiments, the isolated nucleic acid molecules consist of a unique nucleotide sequence identical or complementary to a fragment of SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3 which is at least 10 nucleotides. In some embodiments, the isolated nucleic acid molecules comprise or consist of a nucleotide sequence identical or complementary to a unique fragment of SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:2 which is 15-150 nucleotides. In some embodiments, the isolated nucleic acid molecules comprise or consist of a nucleotide sequence identical or complementary to a unique fragment of SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3 which is 15-30 nucleotides. Isolated nucleic acid molecules that comprise or consist of a nucleotide sequence identical or complementary to a fragment of SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3 which is at least 10 nucleotides are useful as probes for identifying genes and cDNA sequence having SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3, respectively, PCR primers for amplifying genes and cDNA having SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3, respectively, and antisense molecules for inhibiting transcription and translation of genes and cDNA, respectively, which encode FLAMEs having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:2 or SEQ ID NO:4, respectively.

The cDNA that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 may be used as a molecular marker in electrophoresis assays in which cDNA from a sample is separated on an electrophoresis gel and FLAME probes are used to identify bands which hybridize to such probes. Specifically, SEQ ID NO:1 or portions thereof, or SEQ ID NO:3 or portions thereof, may be used as a molecular marker in electrophoresis assays in which cDNA from a sample is separated on an electrophoresis gel and FLAME-specific probes are used to identify bands which hybridize to them, indicating that the band has a nucleotide sequence complementary to the sequence of the probes. The isolated nucleic acid molecule provided as a size marker will show up as a positive band which is known to hybridize to the probes and thus can be used as a reference point to the size of cDNA that encodes FLAME-1 and FLAME-2, respectively. Electrophoresis gels useful in such an assay include standard polyacrylamide gels as described in Sambrook et al., Molecular Cloning a Laboratory Manual, Second Ed. Cold Spring Harbor Press (1989) which is incorporated herein by reference.

The nucleotide sequences in SEQ ID NO:1 and SEQ ID NO:3 may be used to design probes, primers and complimentary molecules which specifically hybridize to the unique nucleotide sequences of FLAME-1 and FLAME-2, respectively. Probes, primers and complimentary molecules which specifically hybridize to nucleotide sequence that encodes FLAME-1 and FLAME-2 may be designed routinely by those having ordinary skill in the art.

The present invention also includes labeled oligonucleotides which are useful as probes for performing oligonucleotide hybridization methods to identify FLAME-1 and FLAME-2. Accordingly, the present invention includes probes that can be labeled and hybridized to unique nucleotide sequences of FLAME-1 and FLAME-2. The labeled probes of the present invention are labeled with radiolabelled nucleotides or are otherwise detectable by readily available nonradioactive detection systems. In some preferred embodiments, probes comprise oligonucleotides consisting of between 10 and 100 ucleotides. In some preferred, probes comprise ligonucleotides consisting of between 10 and 50 nucleotides. In some preferred, probes comprise oligonucleotides consisting of between 12 and 20 nucleotides. The probes preferably contain nucleotide sequence completely identical or complementary to a fragment of a unique nucleotide sequences of FLAME-1 and FLAME-2.

PCR technology is practiced routinely by those having ordinary skill in the art and its uses in diagnostics are well known and accepted. Methods for practicing PCR technology are disclosed in "PCR Protocols: A Guide to Methods and Applications", Innis, M. A., et al. Eds. Academic Press, Inc. San Diego, Calif. (1990) which is incorporated herein by reference. Applications of PCR technology are disclosed in "Polymerase Chain Reaction" Erlich, H. A., et al., Eds. Cold Spring Harbor Press, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. (1989) which is incorporated herein by reference. Some simple rules aid in the design of efficient primers. Typical primers are 18-28 nucleotides in length having 50% to 60% g+c composition. The entire primer is preferably complementary to the sequence it must hybridize to. Preferably, primers generate PCR products 100 basepairs to 2000 base pairs. However, it is possible to generate products of 50 base pairs to up to 10 kb and more.

PCR technology allows for the rapid generation of multiple copies of nucleotide sequences by providing 5' and 3' primers that hybridize to sequences present in a nucleic acid molecule, and further providing free nucleotides and an enzyme which fills in the complementary bases to the nucleotide sequence between the primers with the free nucleotides to produce a complementary strand of DNA. The enzyme will fill in the complementary sequences adjacent to the primers. If both the 5' primer and 3' primer hybridize to nucleotide sequences on the complementary strands of the same fragment of nucleic acid, exponential amplification of a specific double-stranded product results. If only a single primer hybridizes to the nucleic acid molecule, linear amplification produces single-stranded products of variable length.

One having ordinary skill in the art can isolate the nucleic acid molecule that encode FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 and insert it into an expression vector using standard techniques and readily available starting materials.

The present invention relates to a recombinant expression vector that comprises a nucleotide sequence that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 that comprises the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:2 or SEQ ID NO:4, respectively. As used herein, the term "recombinant expression vector" is meant to refer to a plasmid, phage, viral particle or other vector which, when introduced into an appropriate host, contains the necessary genetic elements to direct expression of the coding sequence that encodes the FLAMEs of the invention. The coding sequence is operably linked to the necessary regulatory sequences. Expression vectors are well known and readily available. Examples of expression vectors include plasmids, phages, viral vectors and other nucleic acid molecules or nucleic acid molecule containing vehicles useful to transform host cells and facilitate expression of coding sequences. In some embodiments, the recombinant expression vector comprises the nucleotide sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. The recombinant expression vectors of the invention are useful for transforming hosts to prepare recombinant expression systems for preparing the FLAMEs of the invention.

The present invention relates to a host cell that comprises the recombinant expression vector that includes a nucleotide sequence that encodes a FLAME that comprises SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. In some embodiments, the host cell comprises a recombinant expression vector that comprises SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. Host cells for use in well known recombinant expression systems for production of proteins are well known and readily available. Examples of host cells include bacteria cells such as E. coli, yeast cells such as S. cerevisiae, insect cells such as S. frugiperda, non-human mammalian tissue culture cells chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells and human tissue culture cells such as HeLa cells.

The present invention relates to a transgenic non-human mammal that comprises the recombinant expression vector that comprises a nucleic acid sequence that encodes a FLAME that comprises the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:2 or SEQ ID NO:4. Transgenic non-human mammals useful to produce recombinant proteins are well known as are the expression vectors necessary and the techniques for generating transgenic animals. Generally, the transgenic animal comprises a recombinant expression vector in which the nucleotide sequence that encodes a FLAME of the invention is operably linked to a mammary cell specific promoter whereby the coding sequence is only expressed in mammary cells and the recombinant protein so expressed is recovered from the animal's milk. In some embodiments, the coding sequence that encodes a FLAME is SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3.

In some embodiments, for example, one having ordinary skill in the art can, using well known techniques, insert such DNA molecules into a commercially available expression vector for use in well known expression systems. For example, the commercially available plasmid pSE420 (Invitrogen, San Diego, Calif.) may be used for production of collagen in E. coli. The commercially available plasmid pYES2 (Invitrogen, San Diego, Calif.) may, for example, be used for production in S. cerevisiae strains of yeast. The commercially available MAXBAC.TM. complete baculovirus expression system (Invitrogen, San Diego, Calif.) may, for example, be used for production in insect cells. The commercially available plasmid pcDNA I (Invitrogen, San Diego, Calif.) may, for example, be used for production in mammalian cells such as Chinese Hamster Ovary cells. One having ordinary skill in the art can use these commercial expression vectors and systems or others to produce FLAME of the invention using routine techniques and readily available starting materials. (See e.g., Sambrook et al., Molecular Cloning a Laboratory Alanual, Second Ed. Cold Spring Harbor Press (1989) which is incorporated herein by reference.) Thus, the desired proteins can be prepared in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems, resulting in a spectrum of processed forms of the protein.

One having ordinary skill in the art may use other commercially available expression vectors and systems or produce vectors using well known methods and readily available starting materials. Expression systems containing the requisite control sequences, such as promoters and polyadenylation signals, and preferably enhancers, are readily available and known in the art for a variety of hosts. See e.g., Sambrook et al., Molecular Cloning a Laboratory Manual, Second Ed. Cold Spring Harbor Press (1989).

A wide variety of eukaryotic hosts are also now available for production of recombinant foreign proteins. As in bacteria, eukaryotic hosts may be transformed with expression systems which produce the desired protein directly, but more commonly signal sequences are provided to effect the secretion of the protein. Eukaryotic systems have the additional advantage that they are able to process introns which may occur in the genomic sequences encoding proteins of higher organisms. Eukaryotic systems also provide a variety of processing mechanisms which result in, for example, glycosylation, carboxy-terminal amidation, oxidation or derivatization of certain amino acid residues, conformational control, and so forth.

Commonly used eukaryotic systems include, but is not limited to, yeast, fungal cells, insect cells, mammalian cells, avian cells, and cells of higher plants. Suitable promoters are available which are compatible and operable for use in each of these host types as well as are termination sequences and enhancers, e.g. the baculovirus polyhedron promoter. As above, promoters can be either constitutive or inducible. For example, in mammalian systems, the mouse metallothionein promoter can be induced by the addition of heavy metal ions.

The particulars for the construction of expression systems suitable for desired hosts are known to those in the art. Briefly, for recombinant production of the protein, the DNA encoding the polypeptide is suitably ligated into the expression vector of choice. The DNA is operably linked to all regulatory elements which are necessary for expression of the DNA in the selected host. One having ordinary skill in the art can, using well known techniques, prepare expression vectors for recombinant production of the polypeptide.

The expression vector including the DNA that encodes a FLAME is used to transform the compatible host which is then cultured and maintained under conditions wherein expression of the foreign DNA takes place. The protein of the present invention thus produced is recovered from the culture, either by lysing the cells or from the culture medium as appropriate and known to those in the art. One having ordinary skill in the art can, using well known techniques, isolate the FLAME that is produced using such expression systems. The methods of purifying FLAMEs from natural sources using antibodies which specifically bind to the FLAME as described above, may be equally applied to purifying FLAMEs produced by recombinant DNA methodology.

Examples of genetic constructs include a FLAME coding sequence operably linked to a promoter that is functional in the cell line into which the constructs are transfected. Examples of constitutive promoters include promoters from cytomegalovirus or SV40. Examples of inducible promoters include mouse mammary leukemia virus or metallothionein promoters. Those having ordinary skill in the art can readily produce genetic constructs useful for transfecting with cells with DNA that encodes a FLAME from readily available starting materials. Such gene constructs are useful for the production of the FLAME.

In some embodiments of the invention, transgenic non-human animals are generated. The transgenic animals according to the invention contain SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3 under the regulatory control of a mammary specific promoter. One having ordinary skill in the art using standard techniques, such as those taught in U.S. Pat. No. 4,873,191 issued Oct. 10, 1989 to Wagner and U.S. Pat. No. 4,736,866 issued Apr. 12, 1988 to Leder, both of which are incorporated herein by reference, can produce transgenic animals which produce the Mch2 isoform. Preferred animals are rodents, particularly goats, rats and mice.

In addition to producing these proteins by recombinant techniques, automated peptide synthesizers may also be employed to produce FLAMEs of the invention. Such techniques are well known to those having ordinary skill in the art and are useful if derivatives which have substitutions not provided for in DNA-encoded protein production.

FLAMEs may be used as a pharmaceutical to inhibit apoptosis. Similarly, nucleic acid molecules that encode FLAMEs may be used as part of pharmaceutical compositions for gene therapy. Diseases characterized by apoptosis include HIV infection and Alzheimer's disease. Those having ordinary skill in the art can readily identify individuals who are suspected of suffering from such diseases, conditions and disorders using standard diagnostic techniques.

Pharmaceutical compositions according to the invention comprise a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier in combination with FLAME-1 or FLAME-2, or a nucleic acid molecule that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. Pharmaceutical formulations are well known and pharmaceutical compositions comprising FLAME-1 or FLAME-2, or a nucleic acid molecule that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 may be routinely formulated by one having ordinary skill in the art. Suitable pharmaceutical carriers are described in Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences, A. Osol, a standard reference text in this field, which is incorporated herein by reference. The present invention relates to an injectable pharmaceutical composition that comprises a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier and FLAME-1 or FLAME-2, or a nucleic acid molecule that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. Some embodiments of the invention relate to injectable pharmaceutical compositions that comprise a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier and amino acid sequence SEQ ID NO:2 or SEQ ID NO:4. FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 is preferably sterile and combined with a sterile pharmaceutical carrier.

In some embodiments, for example, FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 can be formulated as a solution, suspension, emulsion or lyophilized powder in association with a pharmaceutically acceptable vehicle. Examples of such vehicles are water, saline, Ringer's solution, dextrose solution, and 5% human serum albumin. Liposomes and nonaqueous vehicles such as fixed oils may also be used. The vehicle or lyophilized powder may contain additives that maintain isotonicity (e.g., sodium chloride, mannitol) and chemical stability (e.g., buffers and preservatives). The formulation is sterilized by commonly used techniques.

An injectable composition may comprise FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 in a diluting agent such as, for example, sterile water, electrolytes/dextrose, fatty oils of vegetable origin, fatty esters, or polyols, such as propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol. The injectable must be sterile and free of pyrogens.

Nucleic acid molecules that encode FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 may be delivered using any one of a variety of delivery components, such as recombinant viral expression vectors or other suitable delivery means, so as to affect their introduction and expression in compatible host cells. In general, viral vectors may be DNA viruses such as recombinant adenoviruses and recombinant vaccinia viruses or RNA viruses such as recombinant retroviruses. Other recombinant vectors include recombinant prokaryotes which can infect cells and express recombinant genes. In addition to recombinant vectors, other delivery components are also contemplated such as encapsulation in liposomes, transferrin-mediated transfection and other receptor-mediated means. The invention is intended to include such other forms of expression vectors and other suitable delivery means which serve equivalent functions and which become known in the art subsequently hereto.

In one embodiment of the present invention, DNA is delivered to competent host cells by means of an adenovirus. One skilled in the art would readily understand this technique of delivering DNA to a host cell by such means. Although the invention preferably includes adenovirus, the invention is intended to include any virus which serves equivalent functions.

In another embodiment of the present invention, RNA is delivered to competent host cells by means of a retrovirus. One skilled in the art would readily understand this technique of delivering RNA to a host cell by such means. Any retrovirus which serves to express the protein encoded by the RNA is intended to be included in the present invention.

In another embodiment of the present invention, nucleic acid is delivered through folate receptor means. The nucleic acid sequence to be delivered to a cell is linked to polylysine and the complex is delivered to cells by means of the folate receptor. U.S. Pat. No. 5,108,921 issued Apr. 28, 1992 to Low et al., which is incorporated herein by reference, describes such delivery components.

Pharmaceutical compositions according to the invention include delivery components in combination with nucleic acid molecules that encode FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 which further comprise a pharmaceutically acceptable carriers or vehicles, such as, for example, saline. Any medium may be used which allows for successful delivery of the nucleic acid. One skilled in the art would readily comprehend the multitude of pharmaceutically acceptable media that may be used in the present invention.

The pharmaceutical compositions of the present invention may be administered by any means that enables the active agent to reach the agent's site of action in the body of a mammal. Pharmaceutical compositions may be administered parenterally, i.e., intravenous, subcutaneous, intramuscular. Intravenous administration is the preferred route.

Dosage varies depending upon known factors such as the pharmacodynamic characteristics of the particular agent, and its mode and route of administration; age, health, and weight of the recipient; nature and extent of symptoms, kind of concurrent treatment, frequency of treatment, and the effect desired.

According to one aspect of the invention, compounds may be screened to identify FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 inhibitors, activators or compounds that interfere with or disrupt FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 interactions with Fas, TNFR1, FADD, Mch4 and Mch5. Inhibitors of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 are useful as apoptotic agents. Activators of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 are useful as anti-5 apoptotic agents.

Ware, C. F. et al. 1996 J. Cell. Biochem. 60(1):47-55, Nagata S. 1997 Cell 88(3):355-65, Nagata S. 1996 Adv Exp Med Biol. 406:119-24, Nagata S. and P. Golstein 1995 Science 267(5203):1449-56, Nagata S. 1994 Adv Immunol. 57:129-44, and Lu, M. L. et al. 1996 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93(17):8977-82, which are each incorporated herein by reference each describe Fas/TNFR1-induced apoptosis.

Nagata, S. 1997 Cell 88, 355-365 Rosette, C. and M. Karin, 1996 Science 274, 1194-1197, which are both incorporated herein by reference each describe UV-induced apoptosis.

Inhibitors of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 are useful as apoptotic agents may be identified by screening compounds to ascertain their effect on the anti-apoptosis activity of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2, respectively. In some embodiments of the invention, compounds are screened to identify inhibitors by delivering FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 to cells in the presence or absence of a test compound. Under assay conditions, the FLAME will have an anti-apoptotic effect on the cells in the absence of test compound. If in the presence of the test compound, the cells become apoptotic, the test compound is candidate inhibitor of the FLAME. Antibodies which inhibit FLAME activity are useful as inhibitors and, therefore as positive controls in the assay. In some embodiments, the FLAME is delivered to the cell as a protein. In some embodiments, the FLAME is delivered to the cell as a nucleic acid molecule that encodes the protein. In some embodiments of the invention, compounds are screened to identify inhibitors by contacting the FLAME with a caspase molecule known to bind to the FLAME. The molecules are contacted in the presence or absence of a test compound. Under assay conditions, the binding of the molecules in the absence of test compound but not in the presence of the compound indicates that the compound inhibits caspase/FLAME binding. Those having ordinary skill in the art can readily detect whether or not caspase and FLAME molecules are bound to each other. Antibodies can inhibit FLAMEs from binding to caspase.

Activators of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 are useful as anti-apoptotic agents may be identified by screening compounds to ascertain their effect on the anti-apoptosis activity of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2, respectively. In some embodiments of the invention, compounds are screened to identify activators by delivering FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 to cells in the presence or absence of a test compound. Under assay conditions, the cells will be apoptotic in the absence of test compound. If in the presence of the test compound, the cells cease being apoptotic, the test compound is candidate activator of the FLAME. In some embodiments, the FLAME is delivered to the cell as a protein. In some embodiments, the FLAME is delivered to the cell as a nucleic acid molecule that encodes the protein.

The invention provides assays for screening compounds to identify and evaluating compounds that disrupt or interfere with FLAME interactions with each other as well as Fas, FADD, TNFR1, Mch4 and Mch5 molecules. Assays are provided for identifying compounds that inhibit FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 binding to FADD, Mch4, Mch5, TNFR1 or Fas, comprising the steps of performing a test assay by contacting the FLAME with Fas, FADD, TNFR1, Mch4 or Mch5 in the presence of a test compound under conditions in which the FLAME binds to the Fas, FADD, TNFR1, Mch4 or Mch5 in the absence of the test compound and determining whether the FLAME binds to the Fas, FADD, TNFR1, Mch4 or Mch5. Assays are provided for identifying compounds that inhibit FLAME-1 binding to FLAME-2 comprising the steps of performing a test assay by contacting the FLAME-1 with FLAME-2 in the presence of a test compound under conditions in which the FLAME-1 binds to the FLAME-2 in the absence of the test compound and determining whether the FLAME-1 binds to the FLAME-2.

In some embodiments of the invention, the preferred concentration of test compound is between 1 .mu.M and 500 .mu.M. A preferred concentration is 10 .mu.M to 100 .mu.M. In some preferred embodiments, it is desirable to use a series of dilutions of test compounds.

Kits are included which comprise containers with reagents necessary to screen test compounds. Such kits include FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 and/or a nucleic acid molecule that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 and instructions for performing the assay. Kits may include cells, and may optionally include antibodies as a control.

According to another aspect of the invention, transgenic animals, particularly transgenic mice, are generated. In some embodiments, the transgenic animals according to the invention contain a nucleic acid molecule which encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. Such transgenic mice may be used as animal models for studying overexpression of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 and for use in drug evaluation and discovery efforts to find compounds effective to inhibit or modulate the activity of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. One having ordinary skill in the art using standard techniques, such as those taught in U.S. Pat. No. 4,873,191 issued Oct. 10, 1989 Wagner and U.S. Pat. No. 4,736,866 issued Apr. 12, 1988 to Leder, both of which are incorporated herein by reference, can produce transgenic animals which produce the FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 and use the animals in drug evaluation and discovery projects.

Another aspect of the present invention relates to knock-out mice and methods of using the same. In particular, transgenic mice may be generated which are homozygous for a mutated, non-functional FLAME-1 and/or FLAME-2 gene which is introduced into them using well known techniques. The mice produce no functional FLAME-1 and/or FLAME-2 and are useful to study the function of FLAME-1 and/or FLAME-2. Furthermore, the mice may be used in assays to study the effect of test compounds on FLAME deficiency. The FLAME deficient mice can be used to determine if, how and to what extent FLAME inhibitors will effect the animal and thereby address concerns associated with inhibiting the activity of the molecule.

Methods of generating genetically deficient "knock out" mice are well known and disclosed in Capecchi, M. R. (1989) Science 244:1288-1292 and Li, P. et al. (1995) CELL 80:401-411, which are each incorporated herein by reference. The human FLAME cDNA clone or the murine FLAME cDNA clone such as the murine FLAME-2 cDNA set forth in SEQ ID NO:5 can be used to isolate a murine FLAME genomic clone. The genomic clone can be used to prepare a FLAME targeting construct which can disrupt the FLAME gene in the mouse by homologous recombination.

The targeting construct contains a non-functioning portion of the FLAME gene which inserts in place of the functioning portion of the native mouse gene. The non-functioning insert generally contains an insertion in the exon that encodes the active region of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. The targeting construct can contain markers for both positive and negative selection. The positive selection marker allows for the selective elimination of cells without it while the negative selection marker allows for the elimination of cells that carry it.

For example, a first selectable marker is a positive marker that will allow for the survival of cells carrying it. In some embodiments, the first selectable marker is an antibiotic resistance gene such as the neomycin resistance gene can be placed within the coding sequences of the Mch2 gene to render it non-functional while additionally rendering the construct selectable. The antibiotic resistance gene is within the homologous region which can recombine with native sequences. Thus, upon homologous reconstruction, the non-functional and antibiotic resistance selectable gene sequences will be taken up.

The targeting construct also contains a second selectable marker which is a negative selectable marker. Cells with the negative selectable marker will be eliminated. The second selectable marker is outside the recombination region. Thus, if the entire construct is present in the cell, both markers will be present. If the construct has recombined with native sequences, the first selectable marker will be incorporated into the genome and the second will be lost. The herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV tk) gene is an example of a negative selectable marker which can be used as a second marker to eliminate cells that carry it. Cells with the HSV tk gene are selectively killed in the presence of gangcyclovir.

Cells are transfected with targeting constructs and then selected for the presence of the first selection marker and the absence of the second. Clones are then injected into the blastocysts and implanted into pseudopregnant females. Chimeric offspring which are capable of transferring the recombinant genes in their germline are selected, mated and their offspring is examined for heterozygous carriers of the recombined genes. Mating of the heterozygous offspring can then be used to generate fully homozygous offspring which are the FLAME-deficient knock out mouse.

The present invention relates to methods of and compositions for inhibiting the expression of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 in cells. In one embodiment, antisense oligonucleotides are provided which have a nucleotide sequence complementary to a nucleotide sequence of mRNA that encodes FLAME-1 or FLAME-2.

The antisense oligonucleotides of the present invention comprise sequences complementary to regions of FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 mRNA. The oligonucleotides comprise a sequence complementary to a region selected from the sequence of the FLAME mRNA. The antisense oligonucleotides include single stranded DNA sequence and an antisense RNA oligonucleotide produced from an expression vector. Each of the antisense oligonucleotides of the present invention are complementary to regions of the FLAME mRNA sequence.

The antisense oligonucleotides of the present invention comprises a sequence complementary to a fragment of SEQ ID NO:1 or SEQ ID NO:3. See Ullrich et al., EMBO J., 1986, 5:2503, which is incorporated herein by reference. Contemplated by this definition are fragments of oligos within the coding sequence for FLAME-1 or FLAME-2. Oligonucleotides are preferably complementary to a nucleotide sequence that is 5-50 nucleotides in length, in some embodiments 8-40, more preferably 12-25 nucleotides, in some embodiments 10-15 nucleotides and in some embodiments 12-20 nucleotides.

In addition, mismatches within the sequences identified above, which achieve the methods of the invention, such that the mismatched sequences are substantially complementary to the FLAME sequences are also considered within the scope of the disclosure. Mismatches which permit substantial complementarily to the FLAME sequences will be known to those of skill in the art once armed with the present disclosure. The oligos may also be unmodified or modified.

The present invention is also directed to a method of inhibiting FLAME-1 or FLAME-2 expression in mammals comprising contacting the mammal with an effective amount of an antisense oligonucleotide having a sequence which is complementary to a region of the FLAME-1 mRNA or FLAME-2 mRNA, respectively.

Methods of administering the antisense oligos of the present invention include techniques well known in the art such as and not limited to liposomes, plasmid expression, or viral vector including retroviral vectors. In the administration of oligos via vectors or plasmids, a non-coding RNA strand of FLAME is preferably used in order to produce antisense RNA oligos which are expressed by the cell. The RNA oligos then bind FLAME sense or coding RNA sequence.

Methods of administering the oligos to mammals include liposomes, and may be in a mixture with a pharmaceutically-acceptable carrier, selected with regard to the intended route of administration and the standard pharmaceutical practice. In addition, antibodies, ligands and the like may be incorporated into the liposomes thereby providing various modes of inhibiting FLAME expression. Dosages will be set with regard to weight, and clinical condition of the patient. The proportional ratio of active ingredient to carrier will naturally depend on the chemical nature, solubility, and stability of the compounds, as well as the dosage contemplated. The oligos of the present invention will be administered for a time sufficient for the mammals to be free of undifferentiated cells and/or cells having an abnormal phenotype.

The oligos of the invention may be employed in the method of the invention singly or in combination with other compounds. The amount to be administered will also depend on such factors as the age, weight, and clinical condition of the patient. See Gennaro, Alfonso, ed., Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences, 18th Edition, 1990, Mack Publishing Co., Easton Pa.

The compounds of the present invention may be administered by any suitable route, including inoculation and injection, for example, intravenous, oral, intraperitoneal, intramuscular, subcutaneous, topically, and by absorption through epithelial or mucocutaneous linings, for example, nasal, oral, vaginal, rectal and gastrointestinal.

The mode of administration of the oligos may determine the sites in the organism to which the compound will be delivered. For instance, topical application may be administered in creams, ointments, gels, oils, emulsions, pastes, lotions, and the like. The oligos of the present invention may be administered alone or will generally be administered in admixture with a pharmaceutical carrier selected with regard to the intended route of administration and standard pharmaceutical practice. For parenteral administration, they are best used in the form of sterile aqueous solution which may contain other solutes, for example, sufficient salts, glucose or dextrose to make the solution isotonic. For oral mode of administration, the present invention may be used in the form of tablets, capsules, lozenges, troches, powders, syrups, elixirs, aqueous solutions and suspension, and the like. Various disintegrants such as starch, and lubricating agents may be used. For oral administration in capsule form, useful diluents are lactose and high molecular weight polyethylene glycols. When aqueous suspensions are required for oral use, certain sweetening and/or flavoring agents may be added. Forty .mu.g/ml antisense oligo was used for in vitro methods of providing oligos in media for cell growth in culture. This concentration may be extrapolated for in vivo use. The concentration of antisense oligonucleotides for in vivo use is about 40 .mu./g body weight. The in vivo use of the expression vector expressing RNA oligonucleotides is determined by the number of transfected cells.

For in vivo use, the antisense oligonucleotide may be combined with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier, such as suitable liquid vehicle or excipient and an optional auxiliary additive or additives. The liquid vehicles and excipients are conventional and commercially available. Illustrative thereof are distilled water, physiological saline, aqueous solution of dextrose, and the like. For in vivo antineoplastic use, the antisense oligonucleotides may be administered intravenously.

In addition to administration with conventional carriers, antisense oligonucleotides may be administered by a variety of specialized oligonucleotide delivery techniques. For example, oligonucleotides have been successfully encapsulated in unilamellar liposomes. Reconstituted Sendai virus envelopes have been successfully used to deliver RNA and DNA to cells. Arad et al., Biochem. Biophy. Acta., 1986, 859, 88-94.

Claim 1 of 10 Claims

What is claimed is:

1. An isolated nucleic acid molecule that comprises a nucleic acid sequence that encodes a protein having the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:4 or a fragment thereof comprising amino acids 1-106 of SEQ ID NO:4.
 



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