Transcriptome-Wide Off-Target Effects of Steric-Blocking Oligonucleotides
Erle M. Holgersen,
Amit G. Deshwar
Posted 03 Sep 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.03.281667
Posted 03 Sep 2020
Steric-blocking oligonucleotides (SBOs) are short, single-stranded nucleic acids designed to modulate gene expression by binding to mRNA and blocking access from cellular machinery such as splicing factors. SBOs have the potential to bind to near-complementary sites in the transcriptome, causing off-target effects. In this study, we used RNA-seq to evaluate the off-target differential splicing events of 81 SBOs and differential expression events of 46 SBOs. Our results suggest that differential splicing events are predominantly hybridization-driven, while differential expression events are more common and driven by other mechanisms. We further evaluated the performance of in silico screens for off-target events, and found an edit distance cutoff of three to result in a sensitivity of 14% and false discovery rate of 99%. A machine learning model incorporating splicing predictions substantially improved the ability to prioritize low edit distance hits, increasing sensitivity from 4% to 26% at a fixed FDR. Despite these large improvements in performance, the approach does not detect the majority of events at a false discovery rate below 99%. Our results suggest that in silico methods are currently of limited use for predicting the off-target effects of SBOs. ### Competing Interest Statement All authors are current or former employees and shareholders in Deep Genomics Inc. Deep Genomics is developing steric-blocking oligonucleotide therapies.
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