RNAi is a powerful cellular mechanism that involves targeted destruction of mRNAs. Although the phenomenon was first discovered in plants and lower eukaryotic organisms, it was later discovered as an important genetic regulatory mechanism in mammalian cells. RNAi is triggered by double stranded RNAs that are cleaved into short 21-23 base pair duplexes by an RNAse III type enzyme called Dicer. The short RNAs, termed small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), act as triggers for targeted RNA degradation. One of the two strands is selectively incorporated into a complex of proteins called the RNA induced silencing complex, or RISC. The incoroporated small RNA guides the complex to the complementary target sequence, and this event is followed by endonucleolytic cleavage of the target and recycling of RISC. In mammalian cells, siRNAs do not activate interferon pathway genes, thereby making these powerful tools for sequence specific knockdown of RNAs. In this article we review the methods for programming mammalian cells with siRNAs, and overview a number of applications ranging from targeting oncogenes to inhibiting viral replication. The article also summarizes some important biological conclusions that can be drawn from selective downregulation of certain mRNA targets and addresses potential uses of RNAi as a new thereapeutic modality.
Keywords: rnai, rnase III type enzyme, small interfering rnas, rna induced silencing complex
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