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1.  Short-term cytotoxic effects and long-term instability of RNAi delivered using lentiviral vectors 
RNA interference (RNAi) can potently reduce target gene expression in mammalian cells and is in wide use for loss-of-function studies. Several recent reports have demonstrated that short double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs), used to mediate RNAi, can also induce an interferon-based response resulting in changes in the expression of many interferon-responsive genes. Off-target gene silencing has also been described, bringing into question the validity of certain RNAi-based approaches for studying gene function. We have targeted the plasminogen activator inhibitor-2 (PAI-2 or SERPINB2) mRNA using lentiviral vectors for delivery of U6 promoter-driven PAI-2-targeted short hairpin RNA (shRNA) expression. PAI-2 is reported to have anti-apoptotic activity, thus reduction of endogenous expression may be expected to make cells more sensitive to programmed cell death.
As expected, we encountered a cytotoxic phenotype when targeting the PAI-2 mRNA with vector-derived shRNA. However, this predicted phenotype was a potent non-specific effect of shRNA expression, as functional overexpression of the target protein failed to rescue the phenotype. By decreasing the shRNA length or modifying its sequence we maintained PAI-2 silencing and reduced, but did not eliminate, cytotoxicity. ShRNA of 21 complementary nucleotides (21 mers) or more increased expression of the oligoadenylate synthase-1 (OAS1) interferon-responsive gene. 19 mer shRNA had no effect on OAS1 expression but long-term selective pressure on cell growth was observed. By lowering lentiviral vector titre we were able to reduce both expression of shRNA and induction of OAS1, without a major impact on the efficacy of gene silencing.
Our data demonstrate a rapid cytotoxic effect of shRNAs expressed in human tumor cell lines. There appears to be a cut-off of 21 complementary nucleotides below which there is no interferon response while target gene silencing is maintained. Cytotoxicity or OAS1 induction could be reduced by changing shRNA sequence or vector titre, but stable gene silencing could not be maintained in extended cell culture despite persistent marker gene expression from the RNAi-inducing transgene cassette. These results underscore the necessity of careful controls for immediate and long-term RNAi use in mammalian cell systems.
PMCID: PMC514603  PMID: 15291968
2.  Pol II–Expressed shRNA Knocks Down Sod2 Gene Expression and Causes Phenotypes of the Gene Knockout in Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(1):e10.
RNA interference (RNAi) has been used increasingly for reverse genetics in invertebrates and mammalian cells, and has the potential to become an alternative to gene knockout technology in mammals. Thus far, only RNA polymerase III (Pol III)–expressed short hairpin RNA (shRNA) has been used to make shRNA-expressing transgenic mice. However, widespread knockdown and induction of phenotypes of gene knockout in postnatal mice have not been demonstrated. Previous studies have shown that Pol II synthesizes micro RNAs (miRNAs)—the endogenous shRNAs that carry out gene silencing function. To achieve efficient gene knockdown in mammals and to generate phenotypes of gene knockout, we designed a construct in which a Pol II (ubiquitin C) promoter drove the expression of an shRNA with a structure that mimics human miRNA miR-30a. Two transgenic lines showed widespread and sustained shRNA expression, and efficient knockdown of the target gene Sod2. These mice were viable but with phenotypes of SOD2 deficiency. Bigenic heterozygous mice generated by crossing these two lines showed nearly undetectable target gene expression and phenotypes consistent with the target gene knockout, including slow growth, fatty liver, dilated cardiomyopathy, and premature death. This approach opens the door of RNAi to a wide array of well-established Pol II transgenic strategies and offers a technically simpler, cheaper, and quicker alternative to gene knockout by homologous recombination for reverse genetics in mice and other mammalian species.
Reverse genetics studies gene functions by altering a gene and observing the consequences. A powerful method of reverse genetics in mammals is gene knockout by homologous recombination, which mutates a gene to prevent its functional expression. Using this method, investigators have revealed the functions of many genes. However, this method is relatively complex, time-consuming, and costly. In addition, this method is limited to studies in mice because it is not well established in other mammalian species. The authors of this study tested an alternative method using RNA interference (RNAi), which is a widely conserved mechanism in eukaryotes and can mediate gene-specific silencing. These investigators used RNA polymerase II (Pol II) to express a short hairpin RNA (shRNA) that triggers destruction of the mRNA-encoding Mn superoxide dismutase (SOD2) in transgenic mice. These mice exhibit phenotypes that were typical in Sod2 knockout mice, including elevated levels of oxidative stress in various tissues, fat deposition in liver and muscles, dilated cardiomyopathy, and premature death. These results open the door of RNAi to a wide array of well-established Pol II transgenic strategies and offer a technically simpler, cheaper, and quicker alternative to gene knockout for reverse genetics in mice and other mammalian species.
PMCID: PMC1358942  PMID: 16450009
3.  Co-expression of Argonaute2 Enhances Short Hairpin RNA-induced RNA Interference in Xenopus CNS Neurons In Vivo 
RNA interference (RNAi) is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for sequence-specific gene silencing. Recent advances in our understanding of RNAi machinery make it possible to reduce protein expression by introducing short hairpin RNA (shRNA) into cells of many systems, however, the efficacy of RNAi-mediated protein knockdown can be quite variable, especially in intact animals, and this limits its application. We built adaptable molecular tools, pSilencer (pSi) and pReporter (pRe) constructs, to evaluate the impact of different promoters, shRNA structures and overexpression of Ago2, the key enzyme in the RNA-induced silencing complex, on the efficiency of RNAi. The magnitude of RNAi knockdown was evaluated in cultured cells and intact animals by comparing fluorescence intensity levels of GFP, the RNAi target, relative to mCherry, which was not targeted. Co-expression of human Ago2 with shRNA significantly enhanced efficiency of GFP knockdown in cell lines and in neurons of intact Xenopus tadpoles. Human H1- and U6-promotors alone or the U6-promotor with an enhancer element were equally effective at driving GFP knockdown. shRNA derived from the microRNA-30 design (shRNAmir30) enhanced the efficiency of GFP knockdown. Expressing pSi containing Ago2 with shRNA increased knockdown efficiency of an endogenous neuronal protein, the GluR2 subunit of the AMPA receptor, functionally accessed by recording AMPA receptor-mediated spontaneous synaptic currents in Xenopus CNS neurons. Our data suggest that co-expression of Ago2 and shRNA is a simple method to enhance RNAi in intact animals. While morpholino antisense knockdown is effective in Xenopus and Zebrafish, a principle advantage of the RNAi method is the possibility of spatial and temporal control of protein knockdown by use of cell type specific and regulatable pol II promoters to drive shRNA and Ago2. This should extend the application of RNAi to study gene function of intact brain circuits.
PMCID: PMC2858607  PMID: 20582287
shRNA; RNAi; knockdown; Pol III promoter; Ago2; AMPA receptor; Xenopus
4.  Alpha-Fetoprotein Promoter-Driven Cre/LoxP-Switched RNA Interference for Hepatocellular Carcinoma Tissue-Specific Target Therapy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e53072.
RNA interference (RNAi) has recently emerged as a potential treatment modality for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) therapy, but the lack of cellular targets and sustained efficacy limits its application. The purpose of this study is to develop an HCC tissue-specific RNAi system and investigate its possibility for HCC treatment.
Two different HCC-specific RNAi systems in which therapeutic miRNA or shRNA against target gene (Beclin 1) was directly or indirectly driven by alpha-fetoprotein promoter (AFP-miRNA and AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA) were constructed. Human HCC cell lines (HepG2, Hep3B and HCCLM3) and non-HCC cell lines (L-02, Hela and SW1116) were infected with the systems. The effectiveness and tissue-specificity of the systems were examined by Q-PCR and western blot analysis. The efficacy of the systems was further tested in mouse model of HCC by intravenous or intratumoral administration. The feasibility of the system for HCC treatment was evaluated by applying the system as adjuvant therapy to enhance sorafenib treatment. An AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA system targeting Atg5 gene (AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA-Atg5) was constructed and its efficacy in sensitizing HCC cells (MHCC97L/PLC) to sorafenib treatment was examined by apoptosis assay in vitro and tumorigenesis assay in vivo.
The AFP-miRNA system could silence target gene (Beclin 1) but required a high titer which was lethal to target cells. The AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA system could efficiently knockdown target gene while maintain high HCC specificity. Intratumoral injection of the AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA system could efficiently silence target gene (Beclin 1) in vivo while intravenous administration could not. The AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA system target Atg5 gene could significantly sensitize MHCC97L/PLC cells to sorafenib-induced apoptosis in vitro and tumor growth suppression in vivo.
An efficient HCC tissue-specific RNAi system (AFP-Cre/LoxP-shRNA) was successfully established. The system provides a usable tool for HCC-specific RNAi therapy, which may serve as a new treatment modality for HCC.
PMCID: PMC3585287  PMID: 23468839
5.  Bacterial Delivery of RNAi Effectors: Transkingdom RNAi 
RNA interference (RNAi) represents a high effective mechanism for specific inhibition of mRNA expression. Besides its potential as a powerful laboratory tool, the RNAi pathway appears to be promising for therapeutic utilization. For development of RNA interference (RNAi)-based therapies, delivery of RNAi-mediating agents to target cells is one of the major obstacles. A novel strategy to overcome this hurdle is transkingdom RNAi (tkRNAi). This technology uses non-pathogenic bacteria, e.g. Escherichia coli, to produce and deliver therapeutic short hairpin RNA (shRNA) into target cells to induce RNAi. A first-generation tkRNAi-mediating vector, TRIP, contains the bacteriophage T7 promoter for expression regulation of a therapeutic shRNA of interest. Furthermore, TRIP has the Inv locus from Yersinia pseudotuberculosis that encodes invasin, which permits natural noninvasive bacteria to enter β1-integrin-positive mammalian cells and the HlyA gene from Listeria monocytogenes, which produces listeriolysin O. This enzyme allows the therapeutic shRNA to escape from entry vesicles within the cytoplasm of the target cell. TRIP constructs are introduced into a competent non-pathogenic Escherichia coli strain, which encodes T7 RNA polymerase necessary for the T7 promoter-driven synthesis of shRNAs. A well-characterized cancer-associated target molecule for different RNAi strategies is ABCB1 (MDR1/P-glycoprotein, MDR1/P-gp). This ABC-transporter acts as a drug extrusion pump and mediates the "classical" ABCB1-mediated multidrug resistance (MDR) phenotype of human cancer cells which is characterized by a specific cross resistance pattern. Different ABCB1-expressing MDR cancer cells were treated with anti-ABCB1 shRNA expression vector bearing E. coli. This procedure resulted in activation of the RNAi pathways within the cancer cells and a considerable down regulation of the ABCB1 encoding mRNA as well as the corresponding drug extrusion pump. Accordingly, drug accumulation was enhanced in the pristine drug-resistant cancer cells and the MDR phenotype was reversed. By means of this model the data provide the proof-of-concept that tkRNAi is suitable for modulation of cancer-associated factors, e.g. ABCB1, in human cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3156018  PMID: 20811323
6.  An inducible system for expression and validation of the specificity of short hairpin RNA in mammalian cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(4):e22.
RNA interference (RNAi) by means of short hairpin RNA (shRNA) has developed into a powerful tool for loss-of-function analysis in mammalian cells. The principal problem in RNAi experiments is off-target effects, and the most vigorous demonstration of the specificity of shRNA is the rescue of the RNAi effects with a shRNA-resistant target gene. This presents its own problems, including the unpredictable relative expression of shRNA and rescue cDNA in individual cells, and the difficulty in generating stable cell lines. In this report, we evaluated the plausibility of combining the expression of shRNA and rescue cDNA in the same vector. In addition to facilitate the validation of shRNA specificity, this system also considerably simplifies the generation of shRNA-expressing cell lines. Since the compensatory cDNA is under the control of an inducible promoter, stable shRNA-expressing cells can be generated before the knockdown phenotypes are studied by conditionally turning off the rescue protein. Conversely, the rescue protein can be activated after the endogenous protein is completely repressed. This approach is particularly suitable when prolonged expression of either the shRNA or the compensatory cDNA is detrimental to cell growth. This system allows a convenient one-step validation of shRNA and generation of stable shRNA-expressing cells.
PMCID: PMC1851631  PMID: 17234679
7.  Decoding pooled RNAi screens by means of barcode tiling arrays 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:7.
RNAi screens via pooled short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) have recently become a powerful tool for the identification of essential genes in mammalian cells. In the past years, several pooled large-scale shRNA screens have identified a variety of genes involved in cancer cell proliferation. All of those studies employed microarray analysis, utilizing either the shRNA's half hairpin sequence or an additional shRNA-associated 60 nt barcode sequence as a molecular tag. Here we describe a novel method to decode pooled RNAi screens, namely barcode tiling array analysis, and demonstrate how this approach can be used to precisely quantify the abundance of individual shRNAs from a pool.
We synthesized DNA microarrays with six overlapping 25 nt long tiling probes complementary to each unique 60 nt molecular barcode sequence associated with every shRNA expression construct. By analyzing dilution series of expression constructs we show how our approach allows quantification of shRNA abundance from a pool and how it clearly outperforms the commonly used analysis via the shRNA's half hairpin sequences. We further demonstrate how barcode tiling arrays can be used to predict anti-proliferative effects of individual shRNAs from pooled negative selection screens. Out of a pool of 305 shRNAs, we identified 28 candidate shRNAs to fully or partially impair the viability of the breast carcinoma cell line MDA-MB-231. Individual validation of a subset of eleven shRNA expression constructs with potential inhibitory, as well as non-inhibitory, effects on the cell line proliferation provides further evidence for the accuracy of the barcode tiling approach.
In summary, we present an improved method for the rapid, quantitative and statistically robust analysis of pooled RNAi screens. Our experimental approach, coupled with commercially available lentiviral vector shRNA libraries, has the potential to greatly facilitate the discovery of putative targets for cancer therapy as well as sensitizers of drug toxicity.
PMCID: PMC2824726  PMID: 20051122
8.  Constitutive Expression of Short Hairpin RNA in Vivo Triggers Buildup of Mature Hairpin Molecules 
Human Gene Therapy  2011;22(12):1483-1497.
RNA interference (RNAi) has become the cornerstone technology for studying gene function in mammalian cells. In addition, it is a promising therapeutic treatment for multiple human diseases. Virus-mediated constitutive expression of short hairpin RNA (shRNA) has the potential to provide a permanent source of silencing molecules to tissues, and it is being devised as a strategy for the treatment of liver conditions such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus infection. Unintended interaction between silencing molecules and cellular components, leading to toxic effects, has been described in vitro. Despite the enormous interest in using the RNAi technology for in vivo applications, little is known about the safety of constitutively expressing shRNA for multiple weeks. Here we report the effects of in vivo shRNA expression, using helper-dependent adenoviral vectors. We show that gene-specific knockdown is maintained for at least 6 weeks after injection of 1 × 1011 viral particles. Nonetheless, accumulation of mature shRNA molecules was observed up to weeks 3 and 4, and then declined gradually, suggesting the buildup of mature shRNA molecules induced cell death with concomitant loss of viral DNA and shRNA expression. No evidence of well-characterized innate immunity activation (such as interferon production) or saturation of the exportin-5 pathway was observed. Overall, our data suggest constitutive expression of shRNA results in accumulation of mature shRNA molecules, inducing cellular toxicity at late time points, despite the presence of gene silencing.
Ahn and colleagues investigate the safety of constitutively expressing short hairpin RNA (shRNA), using helper-dependent adenovirus vectors for multiple weeks in vivo. Hairpin molecules were effectively processed, and gene-specific knockdown was maintained for at least 6 weeks after injection. However, accumulated mature shRNAs declined gradually after week 4, suggesting induction of cell death with concomitant loss of viral DNA and shRNA expression. No evidence of innate immune activation was observed.
PMCID: PMC3237692  PMID: 21780944
9.  Characterization of a potent non-cytotoxic shRNA directed to the HIV-1 co-receptor CCR5 
The use of shRNAs to downregulate the expression of specific genes is now relatively routine in experimentation but still hypothetical for clinical application. A potential therapeutic approach for HIV-1 disease is shRNA mediated downregulation of the HIV-1 co-receptor, CCR5. It is increasingly recognized that siRNAs and shRNAs can have unintended consequences such as cytotoxicities in cells, particularly when used for long term therapeutic purposes. For the clinical use of shRNAs, it is crucial to identify a shRNA that can potently inhibit CCR5 expression without inducing unintended cytotoxicities.
Previous shRNAs to CCR5 identified using conventional commercial algorithms showed cytotoxicity when expressed using the highly active U6 pol III promoter in primary human peripheral blood derived mononuclear cells. Expression using the lower activity H1 promoter significantly reduced toxicity, but all shRNAs also reduced RNAi activity. In an effort to identify shRNAs that were both potent and non-cytotoxic, we created a shRNA library representing all potential CCR5 20 to 22-nucleotide shRNA sequences expressed using an H1 promoter and screened this library for downregulation of CCR5. We identified one potent CCR5 shRNA that was also non-cytotoxic when expressed at a low level with the H1 promoter. We characterized this shRNA in regards to its function and structure. This shRNA was unique that the use of commercial and published algorithms to predict effective siRNA sequences did not result in identification of the same shRNA. We found that this shRNA could induce sequence specific reduction of CCR5 at post transcriptional level, consistent with the RNA interference mechanism. Importantly, this shRNA showed no obvious cytotoxicity and was effective at downregulating CCR5 in primary human peripheral blood derived mononuclear cells.
We report on the characterization of a rare shRNA with atypical structural features having potent RNAi activity specific to CCR5. These results have implications for the application of RNAi technology for therapeutic purposes.
PMCID: PMC2701936  PMID: 19515239
10.  SP22 A Lentiviral Vector-Based RNAi Library Screen to Identify Genes that Modulate Cellular Response to Paclitaxel 
The delivery of short hairpin RNA (shRNA) through use of lentiviral vectors is proving to be a powerful means to mediate gene-specific RNA interference in mammalian cells. The RNAi Consortium has created a library of 150,000 shRNA clones designed to target 15,000 human and 15,000 mouse genes. Through the utilization of a recombinant lentivirus delivery system, this library is proving to be useful in targeting cell lines that are not amenable to small interfering RNA transfection, and in facilitating screens and experiments that require long-term knockdown that cannot be achieved by synthetic siRNA. After validation of this library and demonstration of its applicability in a broad array of cell types, we conducted a screen using a panel of shRNAs targeting tumor-suppressor genes. We examined the effect of knocking out each of these tumor suppressors in a non-small-cell lung cancer cell line prior to treatment with paclitaxel. This screen was effective in identification of genes involved in increasing sensitization or resistance to this chemotherapeutic. We believe that these results validate the usefulness of shRNA in one screening process designed to identify potential therapeutic targets and biomarkers.
PMCID: PMC2291874
11.  Early lethality of shRNA-transgenic pigs due to saturation of microRNA pathways* #  
RNA interference (RNAi) is considered as a potential modality for clinical treatment and anti-virus animal breeding. Here, we investigate the feasibility of inhibiting classical swine fever virus (CSFV) replication by short hairpin RNA (shRNA) in vitro and in vivo. We generate four different shRNA-positive clonal cells and two types of shRNA-transgenic pigs. CSFV could be effectively inhibited in shRNA-positive clonal cells and tail tip fibroblasts of shRNA-transgenic pigs. Unexpectedly, an early lethality due to shRNA is observed in these shRNA-transgenic pigs. With further research on shRNA-positive clonal cells and transgenic pigs, we report a great induction of interferon (IFN)-responsive genes in shRNA-positive clonal cells, altered levels of endogenous microRNAs (miRNA), and their processing enzymes in shRNA-positive cells. What is more, abnormal expressions of miRNAs and their processing enzymes are also observed in the livers of shRNA-transgenic pigs, indicating saturation of miRNA/shRNA pathways induced by shRNA. In addition, we investigate the effects of shRNAs on the development of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) embryos. These results show that shRNA causes adverse effects in vitro and in vivo and shRNA-induced disruption of the endogenous miRNA pathway may lead to the early lethality of shRNA-transgenic pigs. We firstly report abnormalities of the miRNA pathway in shRNA-transgenic animals, which may explain the early lethality of shRNA-transgenic pigs and has important implications for shRNA-transgenic animal preparation.
PMCID: PMC4076603  PMID: 24793764
MicroRNA pathway; shRNA-transgenic pigs; Classical swine fever virus (CSFV); Blastocyst formation; Early lethality
12.  Creating Transgenic shRNA Mice by Recombinase-Mediated Cassette Exchange 
Cold Spring Harbor protocols  2013;2013(9):835-842.
RNA interference (RNAi) enables sequence-specific, experimentally induced silencing of virtually any gene by tapping into innate regulatory mechanisms that are conserved among most eukaryotes. The principles that enable transgenic RNAi in cell lines can also be used to create transgenic animals, which express short-hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) in a regulated or tissue-specific fashion. However, RNAi in transgenic animals is somewhat more challenging than RNAi in cultured cells. The activities of promoters that are commonly used for shRNA expression in cell culture can vary enormously in different tissues, and founder lines also typically vary in transgene expression due to the effects of their single integration sites. There are many ways to produce mice carrying shRNA transgenes and the method described here uses recombinase-mediated cassette exchange (RMCE). RMCE permits insertion of the shRNA transgene into a well-characterized locus that gives reproducible and predictable expression in each founder and enhances the probability of potent expression in many cell types. This procedure is more involved and complex than simple pronuclear injection, but if even a few shRNA mice are envisioned, for example, to probe the functions of several genes, the effort of setting up the processes outlined below are well worthwhile. Note that when creating a transgenic mouse, one should take care to use the most potent shRNA possible. As a rule of thumb, the sequence chosen should provide >90% knockdown when introduced into cultured cells at single copy (e.g., on retroviral infection at a multiplicity of ≤0.3).
PMCID: PMC4028064  PMID: 24003198
13.  Targeted suppression of Has2 mRNA in mouse cumulus cell-oocyte complexes by adenovirus-mediated short-hairpin RNA expression 
RNA interference (RNAi) is an effective tool for studying gene function in oocytes, but no studies have targeted somatic cells of primary cultured cumulus cell-oocyte complexes (COCs). This is probably due to difficulty in introducing RNAi-inducing molecules, such as a short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) gene, into COCs by commonly used transfection reagents. We therefore tested whether a developmental process of intact COCs could be suppressed by adenovirus-mediated shRNA expression. Has2, encoding hyaluronan synthase 2, was selected as the target transcript, because the process of cumulus expansion depends upon expression of Has2 mRNA and this process is easily evaluated in vitro. Intact COCs were infected with replication-incompetent adenoviruses containing an expression sequence of shRNA targeting either Has2 (Has2 shRNA) or a control transcript not expressed in cumulus cells, and the effects on epidermal growth factor (EGF)-stimulated cumulus expansion were determined. Has2 shRNA expression suppressed Has2 mRNA levels in COCs by more than 70%, without affecting expression levels of Ptgs2, Ptx3, Tnfaip6 mRNAs, which are also required for cumulus expansion, or other transcripts not related to expansion. Interestingly, levels of Areg and Ereg mRNAs were decreased in COCs expressing Has2 shRNA when compared with those in controls, while Btc mRNA levels remained unaffected. Furthermore, the degree of cumulus expansion by Has2 shRNA-expressing COCs was significantly less than that of controls. Thus adenovirus-mediated introduction of shRNA produces specific gene silencing and a phenotype in intact COCs, providing proof of principle that this method will be a helpful tool for understanding mechanisms of COC development.
PMCID: PMC2669700  PMID: 18951380
RNA interference; cumulus expansion; hyaluronan synthase 2; shRNA
14.  Online GESS: prediction of miRNA-like off-target effects in large-scale RNAi screen data by seed region analysis 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15:192.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an effective and important tool used to study gene function. For large-scale screens, RNAi is used to systematically down-regulate genes of interest and analyze their roles in a biological process. However, RNAi is associated with off-target effects (OTEs), including microRNA (miRNA)-like OTEs. The contribution of reagent-specific OTEs to RNAi screen data sets can be significant. In addition, the post-screen validation process is time and labor intensive. Thus, the availability of robust approaches to identify candidate off-targeted transcripts would be beneficial.
Significant efforts have been made to eliminate false positive results attributable to sequence-specific OTEs associated with RNAi. These approaches have included improved algorithms for RNAi reagent design, incorporation of chemical modifications into siRNAs, and the use of various bioinformatics strategies to identify possible OTEs in screen results. Genome-wide Enrichment of Seed Sequence matches (GESS) was developed to identify potential off-targeted transcripts in large-scale screen data by seed-region analysis. Here, we introduce a user-friendly web application that provides researchers a relatively quick and easy way to perform GESS analysis on data from human or mouse cell-based screens using short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) or short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs), as well as for Drosophila screens using shRNAs. Online GESS relies on up-to-date transcript sequence annotations for human and mouse genes extracted from NCBI Reference Sequence (RefSeq) and Drosophila genes from FlyBase. The tool also accommodates analysis with user-provided reference sequence files.
Online GESS provides a straightforward user interface for genome-wide seed region analysis for human, mouse and Drosophila RNAi screen data. With the tool, users can either use a built-in database or provide a database of transcripts for analysis. This makes it possible to analyze RNAi data from any organism for which the user can provide transcript sequences.
PMCID: PMC4073188  PMID: 24934636
RNAi; Off-target effects; Data analysis; Seed region; miRNA; siRNA; shRNA; High-throughput screening
15.  Enhancement of Allele Discrimination by Introduction of Nucleotide Mismatches into siRNA in Allele-Specific Gene Silencing by RNAi 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(5):e2248.
Allele-specific gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi) is therapeutically useful for specifically inhibiting the expression of disease-associated alleles without suppressing the expression of corresponding wild-type alleles. To realize such allele-specific RNAi (ASP-RNAi), the design and assessment of small interfering RNA (siRNA) duplexes conferring ASP-RNAi is vital; however, it is also difficult. In a previous study, we developed an assay system to assess ASP-RNAi with mutant and wild-type reporter alleles encoding the Photinus and Renilla luciferase genes. In line with experiments using the system, we realized that it is necessary and important to enhance allele discrimination between mutant and corresponding wild-type alleles. Here, we describe the improvement of ASP-RNAi against mutant alleles carrying single nucleotide variations by introducing base substitutions into siRNA sequences, where original variations are present in the central position. Artificially mismatched siRNAs or short-hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) against mutant alleles of the human Prion Protein (PRNP) gene, which appear to be associated with susceptibility to prion diseases, were examined using this assessment system. The data indicates that introduction of a one-base mismatch into the siRNAs and shRNAs was able to enhance discrimination between the mutant and wild-type alleles. Interestingly, the introduced mismatches that conferred marked improvement in ASP-RNAi, appeared to be largely present in the guide siRNA elements, corresponding to the ‘seed region’ of microRNAs. Due to the essential role of the ‘seed region’ of microRNAs in their association with target RNAs, it is conceivable that disruption of the base-pairing interactions in the corresponding seed region, as well as the central position (involved in cleavage of target RNAs), of guide siRNA elements could influence allele discrimination. In addition, we also suggest that nucleotide mismatches at the 3′-ends of sense-strand siRNA elements, which possibly increase the assembly of antisense-strand (guide) siRNAs into RNA-induced silencing complexes (RISCs), may enhance ASP-RNAi in the case of inert siRNA duplexes. Therefore, the data presented here suggest that structural modification of functional portions of an siRNA duplex by base substitution could greatly influence allele discrimination and gene silencing, thereby contributing to enhancement of ASP-RNAi.
PMCID: PMC2373929  PMID: 18493311
16.  Organic small hairpin RNAs (OshR): a Do-It-Yourself platform for transgene-based gene silencing 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2013;63(2):101-109.
The RNA interference (RNAi) pathway in animal cells can be harnessed to silence gene expression with artificial small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) or transgenes that express small hairpin RNAs (shRNAs). The transgene-expressing shRNA approach has been adapted into large-scale resources for genome-wide loss-of-function screens, whereas focused studies on a narrow set of genes can be achieved by using individual shRNA constructs from these resources. Although current shRNA repositories generally work, they might fail in certain situations and therefore necessitate other alternatives. We detail here a new highly-accessible and rational design of custom shRNAs that utilizes a refined backbone configuration termed the ‘Organic’ shRNA (OshR) platform. The OshR platform is ‘organic’ because it conforms more naturally to the endogenous vertebrate miRNAs by maintaining specific bulges and incorporating strategic mismatches to insure the desired guide strand is produced while reducing the accumulation of passenger strands that might contribute to off-target effects. We also demonstrate that the reliability of the OshR platform for gene silencing is increased when sequences target the 3' UnTranslated Region (3'UTR) of a gene. We further compare the OshR platform with the current and emerging shRNA designs, and propose that the OshR platform is a novel approach that can allow investigators to generate custom and effective shRNAs for individual gene functional studies.
PMCID: PMC3966114  PMID: 23707624
RNA interference; shRNA; gene silencing
17.  A comprehensive platform for highly multiplexed mammalian functional genetic screens 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:213.
Genome-wide screening in human and mouse cells using RNA interference and open reading frame over-expression libraries is rapidly becoming a viable experimental approach for many research labs. There are a variety of gene expression modulation libraries commercially available, however, detailed and validated protocols as well as the reagents necessary for deconvolving genome-scale gene screens using these libraries are lacking. As a solution, we designed a comprehensive platform for highly multiplexed functional genetic screens in human, mouse and yeast cells using popular, commercially available gene modulation libraries. The Gene Modulation Array Platform (GMAP) is a single microarray-based detection solution for deconvolution of loss and gain-of-function pooled screens.
Experiments with specially constructed lentiviral-based plasmid pools containing ~78,000 shRNAs demonstrated that the GMAP is capable of deconvolving genome-wide shRNA "dropout" screens. Further experiments with a larger, ~90,000 shRNA pool demonstrate that equivalent results are obtained from plasmid pools and from genomic DNA derived from lentivirus infected cells. Parallel testing of large shRNA pools using GMAP and next-generation sequencing methods revealed that the two methods provide valid and complementary approaches to deconvolution of genome-wide shRNA screens. Additional experiments demonstrated that GMAP is equivalent to similar microarray-based products when used for deconvolution of open reading frame over-expression screens.
Herein, we demonstrate four major applications for the GMAP resource, including deconvolution of pooled RNAi screens in cells with at least 90,000 distinct shRNAs. We also provide detailed methodologies for pooled shRNA screen readout using GMAP and compare next-generation sequencing to GMAP (i.e. microarray) based deconvolution methods.
PMCID: PMC3115879  PMID: 21548937
18.  Systematic analysis of RNAi reports identifies dismal commonality at gene-level & reveals an unprecedented enrichment in pooled shRNA screens 
RNA interference (RNAi) has opened promising avenues to better understand gene function. Though many RNAi screens report on the identification of genes, very few, if any, have been further studied and validated. Data discrepancy is emerging as one of RNAi main pitfalls. We reasoned that a systematic analysis of lethality-based screens, since they score for cell death, would examine the extent of hit discordance at inter-screen level. To this end, we developed a methodology for literature mining and overlap analysis of several screens using both siRNA and shRNA flavors, and obtained 64 gene lists censoring an initial list of 7,430 nominated genes. We further performed a comparative analysis first at a global level followed by hit re-assessment under much more stringent conditions. To our surprise, none of the hits overlapped across the board even for PLK1, which emerged as a strong candidate in siRNA screens; but only marginally in the shRNA ones. Furthermore, EIF5B emerges as the most common hit only in the shRNA screens. A highly unusual and unprecedented result was the observation that 5,269 out of 6,664 nominated genes (~80%) in the shRNA screens were exclusive to the pooled format, raising concerns as to the merits of pooled screens which qualify hits based on relative depletions, possibly due to multiple integrations per cell, data deconvolution or inaccuracies in intracellular processing causing off-target effects. Without golden standards in place, we would encourage the community to pay more attention to RNAi screening data analysis practices, bearing in mind that it is combinatorial in nature and one active siRNA duplex or shRNA hairpin per gene does not suffice credible hit nomination. Finally, we also would like to caution interpretation of pooled shRNA screening outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3885821  PMID: 23848309
RNAi; shRNA; siRNA; Gene; screening; bioinformatics; analysis; overlap; lethality; essential; PLK1
19.  Discovery of a Dicer-Independent, Cell-Type Dependent Alternate Targeting Sequence Generator: Implications in Gene Silencing & Pooled RNAi Screens 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e100676.
There is an acceptance that plasmid-based delivery of interfering RNA always generates the intended targeting sequences in cells, making it as specific as its synthetic counterpart. However, recent studies have reported on cellular inefficiencies of the former, especially in light of emerging gene discordance at inter-screen level and across formats. Focusing primarily on the TRC plasmid-based shRNA hairpins, we reasoned that alleged specificities were perhaps compromised due to altered processing; resulting in a multitude of random interfering sequences. For this purpose, we opted to study the processing of hairpin TRCN#40273 targeting CTTN; which showed activity in a miRNA-21 gain-of-function shRNA screen, but inactive when used as an siRNA duplex. Using a previously described walk-through method, we identified 36 theoretical cleavage variants resulting in 78 potential siRNA duplexes targeting 53 genes. We synthesized and tested all of them. Surprisingly, six duplexes targeting ASH1L, DROSHA, GNG7, PRKCH, THEM4, and WDR92 scored as active. QRT-PCR analysis on hairpin transduced reporter cells confirmed knockdown of all six genes, besides CTTN; revealing a surprising 7 gene-signature perturbation by this one single hairpin. We expanded our qRT-PCR studies to 26 additional cell lines and observed unique knockdown profiles associated with each cell line tested; even for those lacking functional DICER1 gene suggesting no obvious dependence on dicer for shRNA hairpin processing; contrary to published models. Taken together, we report on a novel dicer independent, cell-type dependent mechanism for non-specific RNAi gene silencing we coin Alternate Targeting Sequence Generator (ATSG). In summary, ATSG adds another dimension to the already complex interpretation of RNAi screening data, and provides for the first time strong evidence in support of arrayed screening, and questions the scientific merits of performing pooled RNAi screens, where deconvolution of up to genome-scale pools is indispensable for target identification.
PMCID: PMC4079264  PMID: 24987961
20.  A direct comparison of strategies for combinatorial RNA interference 
BMC Molecular Biology  2010;11:77.
Combinatorial RNA interference (co-RNAi) is a valuable tool for highly effective gene suppression of single and multiple-genes targets, and can be used to prevent the escape of mutation-prone transcripts. There are currently three main approaches used to achieve co-RNAi in animal cells; multiple promoter/shRNA cassettes, long hairpin RNAs (lhRNA) and miRNA-embedded shRNAs, however, the relative effectiveness of each is not known. The current study directly compares the ability of each co-RNAi method to deliver pre-validated siRNA molecules to the same gene targets.
Double-shRNA expression vectors were generated for each co-RNAi platform and their ability to suppress both single and double-gene reporter targets were compared. The most reliable and effective gene silencing was achieved from the multiple promoter/shRNA approach, as this method induced additive suppression of single-gene targets and equally effective knockdown of double-gene targets. Although both lhRNA and microRNA-embedded strategies provided efficient gene knockdown, suppression levels were inconsistent and activity varied greatly for different siRNAs tested. Furthermore, it appeared that not only the position of siRNAs within these multi-shRNA constructs impacted upon silencing activity, but also local properties of each individual molecule. In addition, it was also found that the insertion of up to five promoter/shRNA cassettes into a single construct did not negatively affect the efficacy of each individual shRNA.
By directly comparing the ability of shRNAs delivered from different co-RNA platforms to initiate knockdown of the same gene targets, we found that multiple U6/shRNA cassettes offered the most reliable and predictable suppression of both single and multiple-gene targets. These results highlight some important strengths and pitfalls of the currently used methods for multiple shRNA delivery, and provide valuable insights for the design and application of reliable co-RNAi.
PMCID: PMC2958852  PMID: 20937117
21.  RNAi screen identifies Brd4 as a therapeutic target in acute myeloid leukaemia 
Nature  2011;478(7370):524-528.
Epigenetic pathways can regulate gene expression by controlling and interpreting chromatin modifications. Cancer cells are characterized by altered epigenetic landscapes, and commonly exploit the chromatin regulatory machinery to enforce oncogenic gene expression programs1. Although chromatin alterations are, in principle, reversible and often amenable to drug intervention, the promise of targeting such pathways therapeutically has been limited by an incomplete understanding of cancer-specific dependencies on epigenetic regulators. Here we describe a non-biased approach to probe epigenetic vulnerabilities in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive haematopoietic malignancy that is often associated with aberrant chromatin states2. By screening a custom library of small hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) targeting known chromatin regulators in a genetically defined AML mouse model, we identify the protein bromodomain-containing 4 (Brd4) as being critically required for disease maintenance. Suppression of Brd4 using shRNAs or the small-molecule inhibitor JQ1 led to robust antileukaemic effects in vitro and in vivo, accompanied by terminal myeloid differentiation and elimination of leukaemia stem cells. Similar sensitivities were observed in a variety of human AML cell lines and primary patient samples, revealing that JQ1 has broad activity in diverse AML subtypes. The effects of Brd4 suppression are, at least in part, due to its role in sustaining Myc expression to promote aberrant self-renewal, which implicates JQ1 as a pharmacological means to suppress MYC in cancer. Our results establish small-molecule inhibition of Brd4 as a promising therapeutic strategy in AML and, potentially, other cancers, and highlight the utility of RNA interference (RNAi) screening for revealing epigenetic vulnerabilities that can be exploited for direct pharmacological intervention.
PMCID: PMC3328300  PMID: 21814200
22.  Lentiviral miR30-based RNA Interference against Heparanase Suppresses Melanoma Metastasis with Lower Liver and Lung Toxicity 
Aim: To construct short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) and miR30-based shRNAs against heparanase (HPSE) to compare their safety and their effects on HPSE down-modulation in vitro and in vivo to develop a more ideal therapeutic RNA interference (RNAi) vector targeting HPSE.
Methods: First, we constructed shRNAs and miR30-based shRNAs against HPSE (HPSE-shRNAs and HPSE-miRNAs) and packed them into lentiviral vectors. Next, we observed the effects of the shRNAs on knockdown for HPSE expression, adhesion, migration and invasion abilities in human malignant melanoma A375 cells in vitro. Furthermore, we compared the effects of the shRNAs on melanoma growth, metastasis and safety in xenograft models.
Results: Our data showed that these artificial miRNAs targeting HPSE could be effective RNAi agents mediated by Pol II promoters in vitro and in vivo, although these miRNAs were not more potent than the HPSE-shRNAs. It was noted that obvious lung injuries, rarely revealed previously, as well as hepatotoxicity could be caused by lentivirus-mediated shRNAs (LV shRNAs) rather than lentivirus-mediated miRNAs (LV miRNAs) in vivo. Furthermore, enhanced expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and TGF-β1 and endogenous mmu-miR-21a-5p were detected in lung tissues of shRNAs groups, whereas the expression of mmu-let-7a-5p, mmu-let-7b-5p and mmu-let-7c-5p were down-regulated.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that artificial miRNAs display an improved safety profile of lowered lung injury or hepatotoxicity relative to shRNAs in vivo. The mechanism of lung injuries caused by shRNAs may be correlated with changes of endogenous miRNAs in the lung. Our data here increase the flexibility of a miRNA-based RNAi system for functional genomic and gene therapy applications.
PMCID: PMC3708037  PMID: 23847439
RNA interference; microRNA(miRNA); heparanase; metastasis; safety
23.  ShRNA-mediated gene silencing of MTA1 influenced on protein expression of ER alpha, MMP-9, CyclinD1 and invasiveness, proliferation in breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 in vitro 
MTA1(metastasis associated-1) is a tumor metastasis associated candidate gene and overexpression in many human tumors, including breast cancer. In this study, we investigated depressive effect on MTA1 by MTA1-specific short hairpin RNA(shRNA) expression plasmids in human breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7, and effect on protein levels of ER alpha, MMP-9, cyclinD1, and tumor cell invasion, proliferation.
ShRNA expression vectors targeting MTA1 was constructed and transfected into human breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7. The transfection efficiency was evaluated by fluorescence microscopy, mRNA levels of MTA1 were detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), protein levels of ER alpha, MMP-9 and cyclinD1 were detected by Western blotting, respectively. Tumor cells invasive ability were evaluated by Boyden chamber assay, the cells proliferation were evaluated using cell growth curve and MTT analysis, the cell cycle analysis was performed using flow cytometry.
Down-regulation of MTA1 by RNAi approach led to re-expression of ER alpha in ER-negative breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231, and reduced protein levels of MMP-9 and CyclinD1, as well as decreased tumor cell invasion and proliferation, more cells were blocked in G0/G1 stage(P < 0.05). However, after inhibiting mRNA levels of MTA1, protein expression of ER alpha, MMP-9, cyclinD1 and the changes of cancer cells invasiveness, proliferation, cells cycle were no statistical difference in ER-positive human breast cancer cell lines MCF-7 (P > 0.05).
ShRNA targeted against MTA1 could specifically mediate the MTA1 gene silencing and consequentially recover the protein expression of ER alpha, resulting in increase sensitivity of antiestrogens, as well as suppress the protein levels of MMP-9 and cyclinD1 in ER-negative human breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231. Silencing effect of MTA1 could efficiently inhibit the invasion and proliferation in MDA-MB-231 cells. The shRNA interference targeted against MTA1 may have potential therapeutic utility in human breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3113748  PMID: 21595884
24.  The anti-genomic (negative) strand of Hepatitis C Virus is not targetable by shRNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(6):3688-3698.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and other plus-strand RNA viruses typically require the generation of a small number of negative genomes (20–100× lower than the positive genomes) for replication, making the less-abundant antigenome an attractive target for RNA interference(RNAi)-based therapy. Because of the complementarity of duplex short hairpin RNA/small interfering RNA (shRNA/siRNAs) with both genomic and anti-genomic viral RNA strands, and the potential of both shRNA strands to become part of the targeting complexes, preclinical RNAi studies cannot distinguish which viral strand is actually targeted in infected cells. Here, we addressed the question whether the negative HCV genome was bioaccessible to RNAi. We first screened for the most active shRNA molecules against the most conserved regions in the HCV genome, which were then used to generate asymmetric anti-HCV shRNAs that produce biologically active RNAi specifically directed against the genomic or antigenomic HCV sequences. Using this simple but powerful and effective method to screen for shRNA strand selectivity, we demonstrate that the antigenomic strand of HCV is not a viable RNAi target during HCV replication. These findings provide new insights into HCV biology and have important implications for the design of more effective and safer antiviral RNAi strategies seeking to target HCV and other viruses with similar replicative strategies.
PMCID: PMC3616702  PMID: 23396439
25.  Criteria for effective design, construction, and gene knockdown by shRNA vectors 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:7.
RNA interference (RNAi) technology is a powerful methodology recently developed for the specific knockdown of targeted genes. RNAi is most commonly achieved either transiently by transfection of small interfering (si) RNA oligonucleotides, or stably using short hairpin (sh) RNA expressed from a DNA vector or virus. Much controversy has surrounded the development of rules for the design of effective siRNA oligonucleotides; and whether these rules apply to shRNA is not well characterized.
To determine whether published algorithms for siRNA oligonucleotide design apply to shRNA, we constructed 27 shRNAs from 11 human genes expressed stably using retroviral vectors. We demonstrate an efficient method for preparing wild-type and mutant control shRNA vectors simultaneously using oligonucleotide hybrids. We show that sequencing through shRNA vectors can be problematic due to the intrinsic secondary structure of the hairpin, and we determine a strategy for effective sequencing by using a combination of modified BigDye chemistries and DNA relaxing agents. The efficacy of knockdown for the 27 shRNA vectors was evaluated against six published algorithms for siRNA oligonucleotide design. Our results show that none of the scoring algorithms can explain a significant percentage of variance in shRNA knockdown efficacy as assessed by linear regression analysis or ROC curve analysis. Application of a modification based on the stability of the 6 central bases of each shRNA provides fair-to-good predictions of knockdown efficacy for three of the algorithms. Analysis of an independent set of data from 38 shRNAs pooled from previous publications confirms these findings.
The use of mixed oligonucleotide pairs provides a time and cost efficient method of producing wild type and mutant control shRNA vectors. The addition to sequencing reactions of a combination of mixed dITP/dGTP chemistries and DNA relaxing agents enables read through the intrinsic secondary structure of problematic shRNA vectors. Six published algorithms for siRNA oligonucleotide design that were tested in this study show little or no efficacy at predicting shRNA knockdown outcome. However, application of a modification based on the central shRNA stability should provide a useful improvement to the design of effective shRNA vectors.
PMCID: PMC1409772  PMID: 16433925

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