RNA interference ( RNAi )
the basics and essential publication
microRNA (miRNA) small inhibiting RNA (siRNA) small activating RNA (saRNA)
RNA interference: hitting the ON switch. Researchers in San Francisco have findings that suggest a whole new side to RNA interference. Erika Check reports on their attempts to make a revolutionary field more revolutionary still.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a mechanism that inhibits or activates gene expression at the stage of translation or by hindering the transcription of specific genes. RNAi targets include RNA from viruses and transposons (a form of innate immune response), and also plays a role in regulating development and genome maintenance. Small interfering RNA strands (siRNA) are key to the RNAi process, and have complementary nucleotide sequences to the targeted RNA strand. Specific RNAi pathway proteins are guided by the siRNA to the targeted messenger RNA (mRNA), where they "cleave" the target, breaking it down into smaller portions that can no longer be translated into protein. A type of RNA transcribed from the genome itself, microRNA (miRNA), works in the same way.
The RNAi pathway is initiated by the enzyme dicer (see below), which cleaves long, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules into short fragments of 20–25 base pairs. One of the two strands of each fragment, known as the guide strand, is then incorporated into the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) and pairs with complementary sequences. The most well-studied outcome of this recognition event is post-transcriptional gene silencing. This occurs when the guide strand specifically pairs with a mRNA molecule and induces the degradation by argonaute, the catalytic component of the RISC complex. Another outcome is epigenetic changes to a gene – histone modification and DNA methylation – affecting the degree the gene is transcribed.
The selective and robust effect of RNAi on gene expression makes it a valuable research tool, both in cell culture and in living organisms because synthetic dsRNA introduced into cells can induce suppression of specific genes of interest. RNAi may also be used for large-scale screens that systematically shut down each gene in the cell, which can help identify the components necessary for a particular cellular process or an event such as cell division. Exploitation of the pathway is also a promising tool in biotechnology and medicine.
Historically, RNA interference was known by other names, including post transcriptional gene silencing, transgene silencing, and quelling. Only after these apparently-unrelated processes were fully understood did it become clear that they all described the RNAi phenomenon. RNAi has also been confused with antisense suppression of gene expression, which does not act catalytically to degrade mRNA, but instead involves single-stranded RNA fragments physically binding to mRNA and blocking protein translation. In 2006, Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on RNA interference in the nematode worm C. elegans, which they published in 1998.
RNAi Nobel Prize Collection
RNAi Nobel Prize - Current Research
RNAi induction using siRNAs or their biosynthetic precursors
Transfection of an exogenous siRNA can be problematic, since the gene knockdown effect is only transient, particularly in rapidly dividing cells. One way of overcoming this challenge is to modify the siRNA in such a way as to allow it to be expressed by an appropriate vector, e.g. a plasmid. This is done by the introduction of a loop between the two strands, thus producing a single transcript, which can be processed into a functional siRNA. Such transcription cassettes typically use an RNA polymerase III promoter (e.g. U6 or H1), which usually direct the transcription of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) (U6 is involved in gene splicing; H1 is the RNase component of human RNase P). It is assumed (although not known for certain) that the resulting siRNA transcript is then processed by Dicer.
Dicer is an RNAse III nuclease that cleaves double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and pre-microRNA (miRNA) into short double-stranded RNA fragments called small interfering RNA (siRNA) of about 20-25 nucleotides long, usually with a two-base overhang on the 3' ends. Dicer contains two RNase domains and one PAZ domain; the distance between these two regions of the molecule is determined by the length and angle of the connector helix and determines the length of the siRNAs it produces. Dicer catalyzes the first step in the RNA interference pathway and initiates formation of the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), whose catalytic component argonaute is an endonuclease capable of degrading messenger RNA (mRNA) whose sequence is complementary to that of the siRNA guide strand.
The enzyme Dicer was given its name by Emily Bernstein, a graduate student in Greg Hannon's group at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who first demonstrated its dsRNA "dicing" activity.
Mechanism of siRNA silencing http://www.uni-konstanz.de/FuF/chemie/jhartig/
Variation among organisms
Organisms vary in their ability to take up foreign dsRNA and use it in the RNAi pathway. The effects of RNA interference can be both systemic and heritable in plants and C. elegans, although not in Drosophila or mammals. In plants, RNAi is thought to propagate by the transfer of siRNAs between cells through plasmodesmata (channels in the cell walls that enable communication and transport). The heritability comes from methylation of promoters targeted by RNAi; the new methylation pattern is copied in each new generation of the cell. A broad general distinction between plants and animals lies in the targeting of endogenously produced miRNAs; in plants, miRNAs are usually perfectly or nearly perfectly complementary to their target genes and induce direct mRNA cleavage by RISC, while animals' miRNAs tend to be more divergent in sequence and induce translational repression. This translational effect may be produced by inhibiting the interactions of translation initiation factors with the messenger RNA's polyadenine tail.
Some eukaryotic protozoa such as Leishmania major and Trypanosoma cruzi lack the RNAi pathway entirely. Most or all of the components are also missing in some fungi, most notably the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Certain ascomycetes and basidiomycetes are also missing RNA interference pathways; this observation indicates that proteins required for RNA silencing have been lost independently from many fungal lineages, possibly due to the evolution of a novel pathway with similar function, or to the lack of selective advantage in certain niches.
Related prokaryotic systems
Gene expression in prokaryotes is influenced by an RNA-based system similar in some respects to RNAi. Here, RNA-encoding genes control mRNA abundance or translation by producing a complementary RNA that binds to an mRNA by base pairing. However these regulatory RNAs are not generally considered to be analogous to miRNAs because the dicer enzyme is not involved. It has been suggested that CRISPR systems in prokaryotes are analogous to eukaryotic RNA interference systems, although none of the protein components are orthologous.
Illustration of the major differences between plant and animal gene silencing. Natively expressed microRNA or exogenous small interfering RNA is processed by dicer and integrated into the RISC complex, which mediates gene silencing.
siRNA, miRNA, and shRNA: in vivo applications.
Pushparaj PN, Aarthi JJ, Manikandan J, Kumar SD.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Singapore
J Dent Res. 2008 Nov;87(11): 992-1003.
RNA interference (RNAi), an accurate and potent gene-silencing method, was first experimentally documented in 1998 in Caenorhabditis elegans by Fire et al., who subsequently were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine. Subsequent RNAi studies have demonstrated the clinical potential of synthetic small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) or short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) in dental diseases, eye diseases, cancer, metabolic diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and other illnesses. siRNAs are generally from 21 to 25 base-pairs (bp) in length and have sequence-homology-driven gene-knockdown capability. RNAi offers researchers an effortless tool for investigating biological systems by selectively silencing genes. Key technical aspects--such as optimization of selectivity, stability, in vivo delivery, efficacy, and safety--need to be investigated before RNAi can become a successful therapeutic strategy. Nevertheless, this area shows a huge potential for the pharmaceutical industry around the globe. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the small RNA molecules, either indigenously produced as microRNAs (miRNAs) or exogenously administered synthetic dsRNAs, could effectively activate a particular gene in a sequence-specific manner instead of silencing it. This novel, but still uncharacterized, phenomenon has been termed 'RNA activation' (RNAa). In this review, we analyze these research findings and discussed the in vivo applications of siRNAs, miRNAs, and shRNAs.