Nucleic acid aptamers have been developed as high-affinity ligands that may act as antagonists of disease-associated proteins. Aptamers are non immunogenic and characterised by high specificity and low toxicity thus representing a valid alternative to antibodies or soluble ligand receptor traps/decoys to target specific cancer cell surface proteins in clinical diagnosis and therapy. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) has been implicated in the development of a wide range of human cancers including breast, glioma and lung. The observation that its inhibition can interfere with the growth of such tumors has led to the design of new drugs including monoclonal antibodies and tyrosine kinase inhibitors currently used in clinic. However, some of these molecules can result in toxicity and acquired resistance, hence the need to develop novel kinds of EGFR-targeting drugs with high specificity and low toxicity. Here we generated, by a cell-Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment (SELEX) approach, a nuclease resistant RNA-aptamer that specifically binds to EGFR with a binding constant of 10 nM. When applied to EGFR-expressing cancer cells the aptamer inhibits EGFR-mediated signal pathways causing selective cell death. Furthermore, at low doses it induces apoptosis even of cells that are resistant to the most frequently used EGFR-inhibitors, such as gefitinib and cetuximab, and inhibits tumor growth in a mouse xenograft model of human non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Interestingly, combined treatment with cetuximab and the aptamer shows clear synergy in inducing apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. In conclusion, we demonstrate that this neutralizing RNA-aptamer is a promising bio-molecule that can be developed as a more effective alternative to the repertoire of already existing EGFR-inhibitors
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