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Oncogene. 2004 Nov 1;23(51):8392-400.

RNAi and HTS: exploring cancer by systematic loss-of-function.

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Department of Chemistry, Scripps Research Institute, 10550 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


Cancer develops through the successive accumulation and selection of genetic and epigenetic alterations, enabling cells to survive, replicate and evade homeostatic control mechanisms such as apoptosis and antiproliferative signals. This transformation process, however, may create vulnerabilities since the accumulation of mutations can expose synthetic lethal gene interactions and oncogene-driven cellular reprogramming ('addiction'), giving rise to new therapeutic avenues. With the completion of the human genome project, it is anticipated that the identification and characterization of genetic networks that regulate cell growth, differentiation, apoptosis and transformation will be fundamental to decoding the complexity of these processes, and ultimately, cancer itself. Genomic methodologies, such as large-scale mRNA profiling using microarrays, have already begun to reveal the molecular basis of cancer heterogeneity and the clinical behavior of tumors. The combination of traditional cell culture techniques with high-throughput screening approaches has given rise to new cellular-genomics methodologies that enable the simultaneous interrogation of thousands of genes in live cells, facilitating true functional profiling of biological processes. Among these, RNA interference (RNAi) has the potential to enable rapid genome-wide loss-of-function (LOF) screens in mammalian systems, which until recently has been the sole domain of lower organisms. Here, we present a broad overview of this maturing technology and explore how, within current technical constraints, large-scale LOF use of RNAi can be exploited to uncover the molecular basis of cancer--from the genetics of synthetic lethality and oncogene-dependent cellular addiction to the acquisition of cancer-associated cellular phenotypes.

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