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RNA. 2004 Jan;10(1):12-8.

Nonspecific, concentration-dependent stimulation and repression of mammalian gene expression by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs).

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Programs in Gene Function and Expression and Molecular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts 01605, USA.


RNA interference is an evolutionarily conserved process in which expression of a specific gene is post-transcriptionally inhibited by a small interfering RNA (siRNA), which recognizes a complementary mRNA and induces its degradation. Currently, RNA interference is being used extensively to inhibit expression of specific genes for experimental and therapeutic purposes. For applications in mammalian cells, siRNAs are designed to be <approximately 30 base pairs to avoid nonspecific effects that arise from inducing the cellular double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-dependent protein kinase (PKR) response. Here we perform expression profiling in mammalian tissue-culture cells treated under standard conditions with conventional 21-bp siRNAs and find, unexpectedly, that >1000 genes involved in diverse cellular functions are nonspecifically stimulated or repressed. The effects on gene expression are dependent upon siRNA concentration and are stable throughout the course of siRNA treatment. Our results can be explained by previous studies showing that dsRNAs can affect multiple signaling and transcription pathways in addition to PKR. The potential for this widespread, nonspecific effect on mammalian gene expression must be carefully considered in the design of siRNA experiments and therapeutic applications.

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