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Small RNA: can RNA interference be exploited for therapy?

CONTEXT: RNA interference (RNAi) is the sequence-specific gene-silencing induced by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), and gives information about gene function quickly, easily, and inexpensively. The use of RNAi for genetic-based therapies is widely studied, especially in viral infections, cancers, and inherited genetic disorders. RNAi has been used to make tissue-specific knockdown mice for studying gene function in a whole animal. Combined with genomics data, RNAi-directed gene-silencing could allow functional determination of any gene expressed in a cell or pathway. The term RNAi came from the discovery that the injection of dsRNAs into Caenorhabditis elegans interferes with the expression of specific genes containing a complementary region to the delivered dsRNA. Although stalled for a time by the non-gene-specific interferon response elicited by dsRNA molecules longer than about 30 nucleotides in mammalian cells, Tom Tuschl's group found that transfection of synthetic 21-nucleotide small-interfering RNA (siRNA) duplexes were highly selective and sequence-specific inhibitors of endogenous genes. STARTING POINT: siRNA expression has been studied with siRNA from plasmid and viral vectors that efficiently deliver siRNAs into both dividing and non-dividing cells, stem cells, zygotes, and their differentiated progeny. A collection of RNA interference vectors that suppress 50 human de-ubiquitinating enzymes allowed Thijn Brummelkamp and colleagues to study this gene family and to identify de-ubiquitinating enzymes in cancer-relevant pathways (Nature 2003; 424: 797-801). These researchers found that the familial cylindromatosis tumour suppressor gene (CYLD), previously of unknown function, could enhance the activation of the transcription factor NF-kappaB, leading to increased resistance to apoptosis. They have now started to investigate the use of CYLD inhibitors in clinical trials. WHERE NEXT: The ability to efficiently and stably produce and deliver sufficient amounts of siRNA to the proper target tissues require refinement before this new technology can be tried clinically. Initial in-vivo studies reported effective transgene suppression in adult mice by chemically synthesised siRNAs. More recently many researchers have used plasmid and viral vectors for transcription of short-hairpin RNAs, both in vitro and in vivo. With these expression systems, gene expression was more stably inhibited than with the transient knockdown recorded with chemically synthesised siRNA. Human trials exploiting these latest findings are likely to soon follow.[1]

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