RNAi (RNA interference) was originally detected in Caenorhabditis elegans as biological response to exogenous double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which induces very effective sequence-specific silencing of gene expression. Further investigations revealed that RNAi can occur in many eukaryotic species. Increasing understanding of the biochemical components of RNAi indicates the existence of a conserved machinery for dsRNA-induced gene silencing that acts in two steps. In the first step, an RNase III family nuclease called Dicer processes the dsRNA to small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) 21-23 nt in length. These siRNAs enter a multimeric nuclease complex that identifies target mRNAs through their homology to siRNAs and induce destruction of the corresponding mRNAs. Since RNAi has become an excellent strategy for gene silencing, it is tempting to apply this technology to knock-down gene expression in living animals. The generation of transgenic mice from embryonic stem cells expressing small hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) has provided evidence for in vivo application of RNAi. Furthermore, different experimental strategies have been developed to analyze the influence of chemically synthesized siRNAs and of vector-based shRNAs on the expression of different transgenes and endogenous genes in vivo. Recent studies describe the in vivo delivery of siRNAs to inhibit transgene expression in certain organs of adult mice, predominately murine liver. Strategies for the inhibition of cellular proliferation by systemic treatment of tumor-bearing animals with siRNAs are beginning to emerge. They are of utmost interest for systemic diseases such as cancer. In addition, several groups have shown that RNAi can also be used to block the infectivity or suppress the replication of different RNA viruses relevant to human diseases including human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). In summary, multiple lines of evidence indicate that RNAi seems to become a powerful tool for the fight against undesirable gene expression in human diseases.
Keywords: homologous endogenous gene, rna-induced silencing complex, post-transcriptional gene silencing, green fluorescent protein, chemotherapy, caenorhabditis elegans
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