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Hum Gene Ther. 2008 Oct;19(10):991-9. doi: 10.1089/hum.2008.131.

Misinterpreting the therapeutic effects of small interfering RNA caused by immune stimulation.

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Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, V5J 5J8 Canada.


Activation of innate immunity has direct effects in modulating viral replication, tumor growth, angiogenesis, and inflammatory and other immunological processes. It is now established that unmodified siRNA can activate this innate immune response and therefore there is real potential for siRNA to elicit nonspecific therapeutic effects in a wide range of disease models. Here we demonstrate that in a murine model of influenza infection, the antiviral activity of siRNA is due primarily to immune stimulation elicited by the active siRNA duplexes and is not the result of therapeutic RNA interference (RNAi) as previously reported. We show that the misinterpretation stems from the use of a particular control green fluorescent protein (GFP) siRNA that we identify as having unusually low immunostimulatory activity compared with the active anti-influenza siRNA. Curiously, this GFP siRNA has served as a negative control for a surprising number of groups reporting therapeutic effects of siRNA. The inert immunologic profile of the GFP sequence was unique among a broad panel of published siRNAs, all of which could elicit significant interferon induction from primary immune cells. This panel included eight active siRNAs against viral, angiogenic, and oncologic targets, the reported therapeutic efficacy of which was based on comparison with the nonimmunostimulatory GFP siRNA. These results emphasize the need for researchers to anticipate, monitor, and adequately control for siRNA-mediated immune stimulation and calls into question the interpretation of numerous published reports of therapeutic RNAi in vivo. The use of chemically modified siRNA with minimal immunostimulatory capacity will help to delineate more accurately the mechanism of action underlying such studies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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