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Neuron. 2014 Jun 18;82(6):1255-1262. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.04.036.

Off-target effect of doublecortin family shRNA on neuronal migration associated with endogenous microRNA dysregulation.

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Neurogenetics Laboratory Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego La Jolla, CA 92093.
Contributed equally


Acute gene inactivation using short hairpin RNA (shRNA, knockdown) in developing brain is a powerful technique to study genetic function; however, discrepancies between knockdown and knockout murine phenotypes have left unanswered questions. For example, doublecortin (Dcx) knockdown but not knockout shows a neocortical neuronal migration phenotype. Here we report that in utero electroporation of shRNA, but not siRNA or miRNA, to Dcx demonstrates a migration phenotype in Dcx knockouts akin to the effect in wild-type mice, suggesting shRNA-mediated off-target toxicity. This effect was not limited to Dcx, as it was observed in Dclk1 knockouts, as well as with a fraction of scrambled shRNAs, suggesting a sequence-dependent but not sequence-specific effect. Profiling RNAs from electroporated cells showed a defect in endogenous let7 miRNA levels, and disruption of let7 or Dicer recapitulated the migration defect. The results suggest that shRNA-mediated knockdown can produce untoward migration effects by altering endogenous miRNA pathways.

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