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1.  RNAi Screening: New Approaches, Understandings and Organisms 
RNA interference (RNAi) leads to sequence-specific knockdown of gene function. The approach can be used in large-scale screens to interrogate function in various model organisms and an increasing number of other species. Genome-scale RNAi screens are routinely performed in cultured or primary cells or in vivo in organisms such as C. elegans. High-throughput RNAi screening is benefitting from the development of sophisticated new instrumentation and software tools for collecting and analyzing data, including high-content image data. The results of large-scale RNAi screens have already proved useful, leading to new understandings of gene function relevant to topics such as infection, cancer, obesity and aging. Nevertheless, important caveats apply and should be taken into consideration when developing or interpreting RNAi screens. Some level of false discovery is inherent to high-throughput approaches and specific to RNAi screens, false discovery due to off-target effects (OTEs) of RNAi reagents remains a problem. The need to improve our ability to use RNAi to elucidate gene function at large scale and in additional systems continues to be addressed through improved RNAi library design, development of innovative computational and analysis tools and other approaches.
PMCID: PMC3249004  PMID: 21953743
RNAi; high-throughput screens; high-content imaging; cell-based assays
2.  Manipulating and enhancing the RNAi response 
The phenomenon that is known as RNA mediated interference (RNAi) was first observed in the nematode C. elegans. The application of RNAi has now been widely disseminated and the mechanisms underlying the pathway have been uncovered using both genetics and biochemistry. In the worm, it has been demonstrated that RNAi is easily adapted to high throughput analysis and screening protocols. Hence, given the availability of whole genome sequences, RNAi has been used extensively as a tool for annotating gene function. Genetic screens performed with C. elegans have also led to the identification of genes that are essential for RNAi or that modulate the RNAi process. The identification of such genes has made it possible to manipulate and enhance the RNAi response. Moreover, many of the genes identified in C. elegans have been conserved in other organisms. Thus, opportunities are available for researchers to take advantage of the insights gained from the worm and apply them to their own systems in order to improve the efficiency and potency of the RNAi response.
PMCID: PMC2737212  PMID: 19771213
C. elegans; RdRP; RNA interference; siRNA; systemic RNAi
3.  In Vivo RNAi-Based Screens: Studies in Model Organisms 
Genes  2013;4(4):646-665.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a technique widely used for gene silencing in organisms and cultured cells, and depends on sequence homology between double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and target mRNA molecules. Numerous cell-based genome-wide screens have successfully identified novel genes involved in various biological processes, including signal transduction, cell viability/death, and cell morphology. However, cell-based screens cannot address cellular processes such as development, behavior, and immunity. Drosophila and Caenorhabditis elegans are two model organisms whose whole bodies and individual body parts have been subjected to RNAi-based genome-wide screening. Moreover, Drosophila RNAi allows the manipulation of gene function in a spatiotemporal manner when it is implemented using the Gal4/UAS system. Using this inducible RNAi technique, various large-scale screens have been performed in Drosophila, demonstrating that the method is straightforward and valuable. However, accumulated results reveal that the results of RNAi-based screens have relatively high levels of error, such as false positives and negatives. Here, we review in vivo RNAi screens in Drosophila and the methods that could be used to remove ambiguity from screening results.
PMCID: PMC3927573
Drosophila; genome-wide screen; RNAi library; false results; interaction network
4.  GenomeRNAi: a database for cell-based RNAi phenotypes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;35(Database issue):D492-D497.
RNA interference (RNAi) has emerged as a powerful tool to generate loss-of-function phenotypes in a variety of organisms. Combined with the sequence information of almost completely annotated genomes, RNAi technologies have opened new avenues to conduct systematic genetic screens for every annotated gene in the genome. As increasing large datasets of RNAi-induced phenotypes become available, an important challenge remains the systematic integration and annotation of functional information. Genome-wide RNAi screens have been performed both in Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila for a variety of phenotypes and several RNAi libraries have become available to assess phenotypes for almost every gene in the genome. These screens were performed using different types of assays from visible phenotypes to focused transcriptional readouts and provide a rich data source for functional annotation across different species. The GenomeRNAi database provides access to published RNAi phenotypes obtained from cell-based screens and maps them to their genomic locus, including possible non-specific regions. The database also gives access to sequence information of RNAi probes used in various screens. It can be searched by phenotype, by gene, by RNAi probe or by sequence and is accessible at
PMCID: PMC1747177  PMID: 17135194
5.  A case study of the reproducibility of transcriptional reporter cell-based RNAi screens in Drosophila 
Genome Biology  2007;8(9):R203.
A second generation dsRNA library was used to re-assess factors that influence the outcome of transcriptional reporter-based whole-genome RNAi screens for the Wnt/Wingless (wg) and Hedgehog (hh)-signaling pathways.
Off-target effects have been demonstrated to be a major source of false-positives in RNA interference (RNAi) high-throughput screens. In this study, we re-assess the previously published transcriptional reporter-based whole-genome RNAi screens for the Wingless and Hedgehog signaling pathways using second generation double-stranded RNA libraries. Furthermore, we investigate other factors that may influence the outcome of such screens, including cell-type specificity, robustness of reporters, and assay normalization, which determine the efficacy of RNAi-knockdown of target genes.
PMCID: PMC2375041  PMID: 17903264
6.  Efficient in vitro RNA interference and immunofluorescence-based phenotype analysis in a human parasitic nematode, Brugia malayi 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:16.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an efficient reverse genetics technique for investigating gene function in eukaryotes. The method has been widely used in model organisms, such as the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, where it has been deployed in genome-wide high throughput screens to identify genes involved in many cellular and developmental processes. However, RNAi techniques have not translated efficiently to animal parasitic nematodes that afflict humans, livestock and companion animals across the globe, creating a dependency on data tentatively inferred from C. elegans.
We report improved and effective in vitro RNAi procedures we have developed using heterogeneous short interfering RNA (hsiRNA) mixtures that when coupled with optimized immunostaining techniques yield detailed analysis of cytological defects in the human parasitic nematode, Brugia malayi. The cellular disorganization observed in B. malayi embryos following RNAi targeting the genes encoding γ-tubulin, and the polarity determinant protein, PAR-1, faithfully phenocopy the known defects associated with gene silencing of their C. elegans orthologs. Targeting the B. malayi cell junction protein, AJM-1 gave a similar but more severe phenotype than that observed in C. elegans. Cellular phenotypes induced by our in vitro RNAi procedure can be observed by immunofluorescence in as little as one week.
We observed cytological defects following RNAi targeting all seven B. malayi transcripts tested and the phenotypes mirror those documented for orthologous genes in the model organism C. elegans. This highlights the reliability, effectiveness and specificity of our RNAi and immunostaining procedures. We anticipate that these techniques will be widely applicable to other important animal parasitic nematodes, which have hitherto been mostly refractory to such genetic analysis.
PMCID: PMC3292814  PMID: 22243803
RNAi; nematode; immunostaining; Brugia; filaria
7.  An RIG-I-Like RNA Helicase Mediates Antiviral RNAi Downstream of Viral siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000286.
Dicer ribonucleases of plants and invertebrate animals including Caenorhabditis elegans recognize and process a viral RNA trigger into virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to guide specific viral immunity by Argonaute-dependent RNA interference (RNAi). C. elegans also encodes three Dicer-related helicase (drh) genes closely related to the RIG-I-like RNA helicase receptors which initiate broad-spectrum innate immunity against RNA viruses in mammals. Here we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain that expressed intense green fluorescence from a chromosomally integrated flock house virus replicon only after knockdown or knockout of a gene required for antiviral RNAi. Use of the reporter nematode strain in a feeding RNAi screen identified drh-1 as an essential component of the antiviral RNAi pathway. However, RNAi induced by either exogenous dsRNA or the viral replicon was enhanced in drh-2 mutant nematodes, whereas exogenous RNAi was essentially unaltered in drh-1 mutant nematodes, indicating that exogenous and antiviral RNAi pathways are genetically distinct. Genetic epistatic analysis shows that drh-1 acts downstream of virus sensing and viral siRNA biogenesis to mediate specific antiviral RNAi. Notably, we found that two members of the substantially expanded subfamily of Argonautes specific to C. elegans control parallel antiviral RNAi pathways. These findings demonstrate both conserved and unique strategies of C. elegans in antiviral defense.
Author Summary
The genome of Caenorhabditis elegans encodes three Dicer-related helicases (DRHs) highly homologous to the DExD/H box helicase domain found in two distinct families of virus sensors, Dicer ribonucleases and RIG-I-like helicases (RLRs). Dicer initiates the specific, RNAi-mediated viral immunity in plants, fungi and invertebrates by producing virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). By contrast, mammalian RLRs trigger interferon production and broad-spectrum viral immunity, although one of the three RLRs may act as both a negative and positive regulator of viral immunity. In this study we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain for high-throughput genetic screens and identified 35 genes including drh-1 that are required for RNAi-mediated viral immunity. Genetic epistatic analyses demonstrate that drh-1 mediates RNAi immunity downstream of the production of viral siRNAs. Notably, we found that drh-2 functions as a negative regulator of the viral immunity. Thus, both nematode DRHs and mammalian RLRs participate in antiviral immune responses. Unlike mammalian RLRs, however, nematode DRH-1 employs an RNAi effector mechanism and is unlikely to be involved in direct virus sensing.
PMCID: PMC2629121  PMID: 19197349
8.  Functional complementation of RNA interference mutants in trypanosomes 
BMC Biotechnology  2005;5:6.
In many eukaryotic cells, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggers RNA interference (RNAi), the specific degradation of RNA of homologous sequence. RNAi is now a major tool for reverse-genetics projects, including large-scale high-throughput screens. Recent reports have questioned the specificity of RNAi, raising problems in interpretation of RNAi-based experiments.
Using the protozoan Trypanosoma brucei as a model, we designed a functional complementation assay to ascertain that phenotypic effect(s) observed upon RNAi were due to specific silencing of the targeted gene. This was applied to a cytoskeletal gene encoding the paraflagellar rod protein 2 (TbPFR2), whose product is essential for flagellar motility. We demonstrate the complementation of TbPFR2, silenced via dsRNA targeting its UTRs, through the expression of a tagged RNAi-resistant TbPFR2 encoding a protein that could be immunolocalized in the flagellum. Next, we performed a functional complementation of TbPFR2, silenced via dsRNA targeting its coding sequence, through heterologous expression of the TbPFR2 orthologue gene from Trypanosoma cruzi: the flagellum regained its motility.
This work shows that functional complementation experiments can be readily performed in order to ascertain that phenotypic effects observed upon RNAi experiments are indeed due to the specific silencing of the targetted gene. Further, the results described here are of particular interest when reverse genetics studies cannot be easily achieved in organisms not amenable to RNAi. In addition, our strategy should constitute a firm basis to elaborate functional-dissection studies of genes from other organisms.
PMCID: PMC549545  PMID: 15703078
9.  The miR-35-41 Family of MicroRNAs Regulates RNAi Sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002536.
RNA interference (RNAi) utilizes small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to direct silencing of specific genes through transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. The siRNA guides can originate from exogenous (exo–RNAi) or natural endogenous (endo–RNAi) sources of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). In Caenorhabditis elegans, inactivation of genes that function in the endo–RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing of genes targeted by siRNAs from exogenous sources, indicating cross-regulation between the pathways. Here we show that members of another small RNA pathway, the mir-35-41 cluster of microRNAs (miRNAs) can regulate RNAi. In worms lacking miR-35-41, there is reduced expression of lin-35/Rb, the C. elegans homolog of the tumor suppressor Retinoblastoma gene, previously shown to regulate RNAi responsiveness. Genome-wide microarray analyses show that targets of endo–siRNAs are up-regulated in mir-35-41 mutants, a phenotype also displayed by lin-35/Rb mutants. Furthermore, overexpression of lin-35/Rb specifically rescues the RNAi hypersensitivity of mir-35-41 mutants. Although the mir-35-41 miRNAs appear to be exclusively expressed in germline and embryos, their effect on RNAi sensitivity is transmitted to multiple tissues and stages of development. Additionally, we demonstrate that maternal contribution of miR-35-41 or lin-35/Rb is sufficient to reduce RNAi effectiveness in progeny worms. Our results reveal that miRNAs can broadly regulate other small RNA pathways and, thus, have far reaching effects on gene expression beyond directly targeting specific mRNAs.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) has become a widely used approach for silencing genes of interest. This tool is possible because endogenous RNA silencing pathways exist broadly across organisms, including humans, worms, and plants. The general RNAi pathway utilizes small ∼21-nucleotide RNAs to target specific protein-coding genes through base-pairing interactions. Since RNAs from exogenous sources require some of the same factors as endogenous small RNAs to silence gene expression, there can be competition between the pathways. Thus, perturbations in the endogenous RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing efficiency by exogenous small RNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) comprise another endogenous small RNA pathway, but their biogenesis and mechanism of gene silencing are distinct in many ways from RNAi pathways. Here we show that a family of miRNAs regulates the effectiveness of RNAi in Caenorhabditis elegans. Loss of mir-35-41 results in enhanced RNAi by exogenous RNAs and reduced silencing of endogenous RNAi targets. The embryonic miR-35-41 miRNAs regulate the sensitivity to RNAi through lin-35/Rb, a homolog of the human Retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene previously shown to regulate RNAi effectiveness in C. elegans. Additionally, we show that this sensitivity can be passed on to the next generation of worms, demonstrating a far-reaching effect of the miR-35-41 miRNAs on gene regulation by other small RNA pathways.
PMCID: PMC3297572  PMID: 22412382
10.  Genome-Wide RNAi of C. elegans Using the Hypersensitive rrf-3 Strain Reveals Novel Gene Functions 
PLoS Biology  2003;1(1):e12.
RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) is a method to inhibit gene function by introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Recently, an RNAi library was constructed that consists of bacterial clones expressing dsRNA, corresponding to nearly 90% of the 19,427 predicted genes of C. elegans. Feeding of this RNAi library to the standard wild-type laboratory strain Bristol N2 detected phenotypes for approximately 10% of the corresponding genes. To increase the number of genes for which a loss-of-function phenotype can be detected, we undertook a genome-wide RNAi screen using the rrf-3 mutant strain, which we found to be hypersensitive to RNAi. Feeding of the RNAi library to rrf-3 mutants resulted in additional loss-of-function phenotypes for 393 genes, increasing the number of genes with a phenotype by 23%. These additional phenotypes are distributed over different phenotypic classes. We also studied interexperimental variability in RNAi results and found persistent levels of false negatives. In addition, we used the RNAi phenotypes obtained with the genome-wide screens to systematically clone seven existing genetic mutants with visible phenotypes. The genome-wide RNAi screen using rrf-3 significantly increased the functional data on the C. elegans genome. The resulting dataset will be valuable in conjunction with other functional genomics approaches, as well as in other model organisms.
The screen suggested functions for 393 genes for which no RNAi-mediated phenotype was known. The comparison with similar screens in worms has general implications for RNAi experiments
PMCID: PMC212692  PMID: 14551910
11.  In situ electroporation of surface-bound siRNAs in microwell arrays† 
Lab on a Chip  2012;12(5):939-947.
Gene silencing using RNA interference (RNAi) has become a prominent biological tool for gene annotation, pathway analysis, and target discovery in mammalian cells. High-throughput screens conducted using whole-genome siRNA libraries have uncovered rich sets of new genes involved in a variety of biological processes and cellular models of disease. However, high-throughput RNAi screening is not yet a mainstream tool in life science research because current screening platforms are expensive and onerous. Miniaturizing the RNAi screening platform to reduce cost and increase throughput will enable its widespread use and harness its potential for rapid genome annotation. With this aim, we have combined semi-conductor microfabrication and nanolitre dispensing techniques to develop miniaturized electroporation-ready microwell arrays loaded with siRNA molecules in which multiplexed gene knockdown can be achieved. Arrays of microwells are created using high-aspect ratio biocompatible photoresists on optically transparent and conductive Indium-Tin Oxide (ITO) substrates with integrated micro-electrodes to enable in situ electroporation. Non-contact inkjet microarraying allows precise dispensing of nanolitre volumes into the microwell structures. We have achieved parallel electroporation of multiple mammalian cells cultured in these microwell arrays and observed efficient knockdown of genes with surface-bound, printed siRNAs. Further integration of microfabrication and non-contact nanolitre dispensing techniques described here may enable single-substrate whole-genome siRNA screening in mammalian cells.
PMCID: PMC3392120  PMID: 22245984
12.  Quantitative and Automated High-throughput Genome-wide RNAi Screens in C. elegans 
RNA interference is a powerful method to understand gene function, especially when conducted at a whole-genome scale and in a quantitative context. In C. elegans, gene function can be knocked down simply and efficiently by feeding worms with bacteria expressing a dsRNA corresponding to a specific gene 1. While the creation of libraries of RNAi clones covering most of the C. elegans genome 2,3 opened the way for true functional genomic studies (see for example 4-7), most established methods are laborious. Moy and colleagues have developed semi-automated protocols that facilitate genome-wide screens 8. The approach relies on microscopic imaging and image analysis.
Here we describe an alternative protocol for a high-throughput genome-wide screen, based on robotic handling of bacterial RNAi clones, quantitative analysis using the COPAS Biosort (Union Biometrica (UBI)), and an integrated software: the MBioLIMS (Laboratory Information Management System from Modul-Bio) a technology that provides increased throughput for data management and sample tracking. The method allows screens to be conducted on solid medium plates. This is particularly important for some studies, such as those addressing host-pathogen interactions in C. elegans, since certain microbes do not efficiently infect worms in liquid culture.
We show how the method can be used to quantify the importance of genes in anti-fungal innate immunity in C. elegans. In this case, the approach relies on the use of a transgenic strain carrying an epidermal infection-inducible fluorescent reporter gene, with GFP under the control of the promoter of the antimicrobial peptide gene nlp 29 and a red fluorescent reporter that is expressed constitutively in the epidermis. The latter provides an internal control for the functional integrity of the epidermis and nonspecific transgene silencing9. When control worms are infected by the fungus they fluoresce green. Knocking down by RNAi a gene required for nlp 29 expression results in diminished fluorescence after infection. Currently, this protocol allows more than 3,000 RNAi clones to be tested and analyzed per week, opening the possibility of screening the entire genome in less than 2 months.
PMCID: PMC3399495  PMID: 22395785
Molecular Biology;  Issue 60;  C. elegans;  fluorescent reporter;  Biosort;  LIMS;  innate immunity;  Drechmeria coniospora
13.  Loss of LIN-35, the Caenorhabditis elegans ortholog of the tumor suppressor p105Rb, results in enhanced RNA interference 
Genome Biology  2006;7(1):R4.
Mutations in lin-35, the worm ortholog of a mammalian tumor suppressor gene, and other synMuv B genes result in an increased sensitivity to RNAi and enhanced somatic transgene silencing.
Genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screening is a very powerful tool for analyzing gene function in vivo in Caenorhabditis elegans. The effectiveness of RNAi varies from gene to gene, however, and neuronally expressed genes are largely refractive to RNAi in wild-type worms.
We found that C. elegans strains carrying mutations in lin-35, the worm ortholog of the tumor suppressor gene p105Rb, or a subset of the genetically related synMuv B family of chromatin-modifying genes, show increased strength and penetrance for many germline, embryonic, and post-embryonic RNAi phenotypes, including neuronal RNAi phenotypes. Mutations in these same genes also enhance somatic transgene silencing via an RNAi-dependent mechanism. Two genes, mes-4 and zfp-1, are required both for the vulval lineage defects resulting from mutations in synMuv B genes and for RNAi, suggesting a common mechanism for the function of synMuv B genes in vulval development and in regulating RNAi. Enhanced RNAi in the germline of lin-35 worms suggests that misexpression of germline genes in somatic cells cannot alone account for the enhanced RNAi observed in this strain.
A worm strain with a null mutation in lin-35 is more sensitive to RNAi than any other previously described single mutant strain, and so will prove very useful for future genome-wide RNAi screens, particularly for identifying genes with neuronal functions. As lin-35 is the worm ortholog of the mammalian tumor suppressor gene p105Rb, misregulation of RNAi may be important during human oncogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1431716  PMID: 16507136
14.  Several Grassland Soil Nematode Species Are Insensitive to RNA-Mediated Interference 
Journal of Nematology  2012;44(1):92-101.
Phenotypic analysis of defects caused by RNA mediated interference (RNAi) in Caenorhabditis elegans has proven to be a powerful tool for determining gene function. In this study we investigated the effectiveness of RNAi in four non-model grassland soil nematodes, Oscheius sp FVV-2., Rhabditis sp, Mesorhabditis sp., and Acrobeloides sp. In contrast to reference experiments performed using C. elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae, feeding bacteria expressing dsRNA and injecting dsRNA into the gonad did not produce the expected RNAi knockdown phenotypes in any of the grassland nematodes. Quantitative reverse-transcribed PCR (qRT-PCR) assays did not detect a statistically significant reduction in the mRNA levels of endogenous genes targeted by RNAi in Oscheius sp., and Mesorhabditis sp. From these studies we conclude that due to low effectiveness and inconsistent reproducibility, RNAi knockdown phenotypes in non-Caenorhabditis nematodes should be interpreted cautiously.
PMCID: PMC3593264  PMID: 23483038
RNAi; Konza prairie; soil nematode; molecular biology
15.  A status report on RNAi therapeutics 
Silence  2010;1:14.
Fire and Mello initiated the current explosion of interest in RNA interference (RNAi) biology with their seminal work in Caenorhabditis elegans. These observations were closely followed by the demonstration of RNAi in Drosophila melanogaster. However, the full potential of these new discoveries only became clear when Tuschl and colleagues showed that 21-22 bp RNA duplexes with 3" overhangs, termed small interfering (si)RNAs, could reliably execute RNAi in a range of mammalian cells. Soon afterwards, it became clear that many different human cell types had endogenous machinery, the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), which could be harnessed to silence any gene in the genome. Beyond the availability of a novel way to dissect biology, an important target validation tool was now available. More importantly, two key properties of the RNAi pathway - sequence-mediated specificity and potency - suggested that RNAi might be the most important pharmacological advance since the advent of protein therapeutics. The implications were profound. One could now envisage selecting disease-associated targets at will and expect to suppress proteins that had remained intractable to inhibition by conventional methods, such as small molecules. This review attempts to summarize the current understanding on siRNA lead discovery, the delivery of RNAi therapeutics, typical in vivo pharmacological profiles, preclinical safety evaluation and an overview of the 14 programs that have already entered clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC2908561  PMID: 20615220
16.  Specific and nontoxic silencing in mammalian cells with expressed long dsRNAs 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(13):3803-3810.
A number of groups have developed libraries of siRNAs to identify genes through functional genomics. While these studies have validated the approach of making functional RNAi libraries to understand fundamental cellular mechanisms, they require information and knowledge of existing sequences since the RNAi sequences are generated synthetically. An alternative strategy would be to create an RNAi library from cDNA. Unfortunately, the complexity of such a library of siRNAs would make screening difficult. To reduce the complexity, longer dsRNAs could be used; however, concerns of induction of the interferon response and off-target effects of long dsRNAs have prevented their use. As a first step in creating such libraries, long dsRNA was expressed in mammalian cells. The 250 nt dsRNAs were capable of efficiently silencing a luciferase reporter gene that was stably transfected in MDA-MB-231 cells without inducing the interferon response or off-target effects any more than reported for siRNAs. In addition, a long dsRNA expressed in the same cell line was capable of silencing endogenous c-met expression and inhibited cell migration, whereas the dsRNA against luciferase had no effect on c-met or cell migration. The studies suggest that large dsRNA libraries are feasible and that functional selection of genes will be possible.
PMCID: PMC1540741  PMID: 16916791
17.  Systemic RNAi mediated gene silencing in the anhydrobiotic nematode Panagrolaimus superbus 
Gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful tool for functional genomics. Although RNAi was first described in Caenorhabditis elegans, several nematode species are unable to mount an RNAi response when exposed to exogenous double stranded RNA (dsRNA). These include the satellite model organisms Pristionchus pacificus and Oscheius tipulae. Available data also suggest that the RNAi pathway targeting exogenous dsRNA may not be fully functional in some animal parasitic nematodes. The genus Panagrolaimus contains bacterial feeding nematodes which occupy a diversity of niches ranging from polar, temperate and semi-arid soils to terrestrial mosses. Thus many Panagrolaimus species are adapted to tolerate freezing and desiccation and are excellent systems to study the molecular basis of environmental stress tolerance. We investigated whether Panagrolaimus is susceptible to RNAi to determine whether this nematode could be used in large scale RNAi studies in functional genomics.
We studied two species: Panagrolaimus sp. PS1159 and Panagrolaimus superbus. Both nematode species displayed embryonic lethal RNAi phenotypes following ingestion of Escherichia coli expressing dsRNA for the C. elegans embryonic lethal genes Ce-lmn-1 and Ce-ran-4. Embryonic lethal RNAi phenotypes were also obtained in both species upon ingestion of dsRNA for the Panagrolaimus genes ef1b and rps-2. Single nematode RT-PCR showed that a significant reduction in mRNA transcript levels occurred for the target ef1b and rps-2 genes in RNAi treated Panagrolaimus sp. 1159 nematodes. Visible RNAi phenotypes were also observed when P. superbus was exposed to dsRNA for structural genes encoding contractile proteins. All RNAi phenotypes were highly penetrant, particularly in P. superbus.
This demonstration that Panagrolaimus is amenable to RNAi by feeding will allow the development of high throughput methods of RNAi screening for P. superbus. This greatly enhances the utility of this nematode as a model system for the study of the molecular biology of anhydrobiosis and cryobiosis and as a possible satellite model nematode for comparative and functional genomics. Our data also identify another nematode infraorder which is amenable to RNAi and provide additional information on the diversity of RNAi phenotypes in nematodes.
PMCID: PMC2453295  PMID: 18565215
18.  RDE-2 interacts with MUT-7 to mediate RNA interference in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(1):347-355.
In Caenorhabditis elegans, the activity of transposable elements is repressed in the germline. One of the mechanisms involved in this repression is RNA interference (RNAi), a process in which dsRNA targets cleavage of mRNAs in a sequence-specific manner. The first gene found to be involved in RNAi and transposon silencing in C.elegans is mut-7, a gene encoding a putative exoribonuclease. Here, we show that the MUT-7 protein resides in complexes of ∼250 kDa in the nucleus and in the cytosol. In addition, we find that upon triggering of RNAi the cytosolic MUT-7 complex increases in size. This increase is independent of the presence of target RNA, but does depend on the presence of RDE-1 and RDE-4, two proteins involved in small interfering RNA (siRNA) production. Finally, using a yeast two-hybrid screen, we identified RDE-2/MUT-8 as one of the other components of this complex. This protein is encoded by the rde-2/mut-8 locus, previously implicated in RNAi and transposon silencing. Using genetic complementation analysis, we show that the interaction between these two proteins is required for efficient RNAi in vivo. Together these data support a role for the MUT-7/RDE-2 complex downstream of siRNA formation, but upstream of siRNA mediated target RNA recognition, possibly indicating a role in the siRNA amplification step.
PMCID: PMC546165  PMID: 15653635
19.  hTERT Knockdown in Human Embryonic Kidney Cells Using Double-Stranded RNA 
The method of RNA interference (RNAi) is an easy means of knocking down a gene without having to generate knockout mutants, which may prove to be difficult and time consuming. RNAi is a naturally occurring process that involves targeting the mRNA of a gene by introducing RNAs that are complementary to the target mRNA. The foreign RNAs activate an endogenous enzyme, DICER, which degrades the target mRNA. There are many ways of eliciting the RNAi response in a cell. In this chapter, we describe the use of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) to knockdown human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), the gene that codes for the catalytic subunit of the human telomerase enzyme. dsRNA can be used to generate the RNAi response in cells of embryonic origin, such as human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells. The RNAi effect is transient because the dsRNA eventually gets degraded in the cells, and it is useful to study the short-term effects of a gene knockdown.
PMCID: PMC2423205  PMID: 18369814
dsRNA; RNAi; HEK cells; hTERT
20.  A novel method for tissue-specific RNAi rescue in Drosophila 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(13):e93.
Targeted gene silencing by RNA interference allows the study of gene function in plants and animals. In cell culture and small animal models, genetic screens can be performed—even tissue-specifically in Drosophila—with genome-wide RNAi libraries. However, a major problem with the use of RNAi approaches is the unavoidable false-positive error caused by off-target effects. Until now, this is minimized by computational RNAi design, comparing RNAi to the mutant phenotype if known, and rescue with a presumed ortholog. The ultimate proof of specificity would be to restore expression of the same gene product in vivo. Here, we present a simple and efficient method to rescue the RNAi-mediated knockdown of two independent genes in Drosophila. By exploiting the degenerate genetic code, we generated Drosophila RNAi Escape Strategy Construct (RESC) rescue proteins containing frequent silent mismatches in the complete RNAi target sequence. RESC products were no longer efficiently silenced by RNAi in cell culture and in vivo. As a proof of principle, we rescue the RNAi-induced loss of function phenotype of the eye color gene white and tracheal defects caused by the knockdown of the heparan sulfate proteoglycan syndecan. Our data suggest that RESC is widely applicable to rescue and validate ubiquitous or tissue-specific RNAi and to perform protein structure–function analysis.
PMCID: PMC2715260  PMID: 19483100
21.  Exploring systemic RNA interference in insects: a genome-wide survey for RNAi genes in Tribolium 
Genome Biology  2008;9(1):R10.
Tribolium resembles C. elegans in showing a robust systemic RNAi response, but does not have C. elegans-type RNAi mechanisms; insect systemic RNAi probably uses a different mechanism.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a highly conserved cellular mechanism. In some organisms, such as Caenorhabditis elegans, the RNAi response can be transmitted systemically. Some insects also exhibit a systemic RNAi response. However, Drosophila, the leading insect model organism, does not show a robust systemic RNAi response, necessitating another model system to study the molecular mechanism of systemic RNAi in insects.
We used Tribolium, which exhibits robust systemic RNAi, as an alternative model system. We have identified the core RNAi genes, as well as genes potentially involved in systemic RNAi, from the Tribolium genome. Both phylogenetic and functional analyses suggest that Tribolium has a somewhat larger inventory of core component genes than Drosophila, perhaps allowing a more sensitive response to double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). We also identified three Tribolium homologs of C. elegans sid-1, which encodes a possible dsRNA channel. However, detailed sequence analysis has revealed that these Tribolium homologs share more identity with another C. elegans gene, tag-130. We analyzed tag-130 mutants, and found that this gene does not have a function in systemic RNAi in C. elegans. Likewise, the Tribolium sid-like genes do not seem to be required for systemic RNAi. These results suggest that insect sid-1-like genes have a different function than dsRNA uptake. Moreover, Tribolium lacks homologs of several genes important for RNAi in C. elegans.
Although both Tribolium and C. elegans show a robust systemic RNAi response, our genome-wide survey reveals significant differences between the RNAi mechanisms of these organisms. Thus, insects may use an alternative mechanism for the systemic RNAi response. Understanding this process would assist with rendering other insects amenable to systemic RNAi, and may influence pest control approaches.
PMCID: PMC2395250  PMID: 18201385
22.  Non-cell-autonomous RNA interference in mammalian cells: Implications for in vivo cell-based RNAi delivery 
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional pathway in which double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggers the degradation of complementary mRNA in the cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells. In plants and in some animals, including Caenorhabditis elegans, initiation of RNAi in one cell can lead to sequence-specific RNA silencing in another cell, a phenomenon referred to as non-cell-autonomous RNAi. Until recently, this phenomenon had not been observed in mammalian cells. Here, we review emerging data demonstrating that non-cell-autonomous RNAi occurs in cultured mammalian cells. We discuss possible mechanisms for the transfer of RNAi between mammalian cells and highlight the implications of this phenomenon for the development of in vivo cell-based RNAi delivery.
PMCID: PMC3244743  PMID: 22205888
RNAi; siRNA; miRNA; non-cell-autonomous RNAi; systemic RNAi; RNAi delivery; cell-based delivery
23.  MicroRNA–Directed siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(4):e1000903.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional silencing process, triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), leading to the destabilization of homologous mRNAs. A distinction has been made between endogenous RNAi–related pathways and the exogenous RNAi pathway, the latter being essential for the experimental use of RNAi. Previous studies have shown that, in Caenorhabditis elegans, a complex containing the enzymes Dicer and the Argonaute RDE-1 process dsRNA. Dicer is responsible for cleaving dsRNA into short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) while RDE-1 acts as the siRNA acceptor. RDE-1 then guides a multi-protein complex to homologous targets to trigger mRNA destabilization. However, endogenous role(s) for RDE-1, if any, have remained unexplored. We here show that RDE-1 functions as a scavenger protein, taking up small RNA molecules from many different sources, including the microRNA (miRNA) pathway. This is in striking contrast to Argonaute proteins functioning directly in the miRNA pathway, ALG-1 and ALG-2: these proteins exclusively bind miRNAs. While playing no significant role in the biogenesis of the main pool of miRNAs, RDE-1 binds endogenous miRNAs and triggers RdRP activity on at least one perfectly matching, endogenous miRNA target. The resulting secondary siRNAs are taken up by a set of Argonaute proteins known to act as siRNA acceptors in exogenous RNAi, resulting in strong mRNA destabilization. Our results show that RDE-1 in an endogenous setting is actively screening the transcriptome using many different small RNAs, including miRNAs, as a guide, with implications for the evolution of transcripts with a potential to be recognized by Dicer.
Author Summary
Due to its intrinsic characteristics, RNA interference (RNAi) has become one of the most widely used tools in cell biology and has revolutionized approaches to elucidate gene function. The process, also known as RNA silencing, is triggered by dsRNA molecules that are cleaved by Dicer proteins into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). The rde-1 gene from Caenorhabditis elegans was one of the first genes found in association with this mechanism and encodes the only Argonaute protein in worms, which is by itself essential for the classical RNAi pathway triggered by exogenously introduced dsRNA. However, little is known about endogenous functions of RDE-1. Here we show that RDE-1 binds to many classes of small RNAs, including microRNAs. We show that miR-243 is efficiently bound by RDE-1 and triggers regular RNAi on an endogenous target, implying that many RNA species, including miRNAs, are constantly being screened against the transcriptome using the canonical exogenous RNAi pathway.
PMCID: PMC2851571  PMID: 20386745
24.  RNAiDB and PhenoBlast: web tools for genome-wide phenotypic mapping projects 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(Database issue):D406-D410.
RNA interference (RNAi) is being used in large-scale genomic studies as a rapid way to obtain in vivo functional information associated with specific genes. How best to archive and mine the complex data derived from these studies provides a series of challenges associated with both the methods used to elicit the RNAi response and the functional data gathered. RNAiDB (RNAi Database; has been created for the archival, distribution and analysis of phenotypic data from large-scale RNAi analyses in Caenorhabditis elegans. The database contains a compendium of publicly available data and provides information on experimental methods and phenotypic results, including raw data in the form of images and streaming time-lapse movies. Phenotypic summaries together with graphical displays of RNAi to gene mappings allow quick intuitive comparison of results from different RNAi assays and visualization of the gene product(s) potentially inhibited by each RNAi experiment based on multiple sequence analysis methods. RNAiDB can be searched using combinatorial queries and using the novel tool PhenoBlast, which ranks genes according to their overall phenotypic similarity. RNAiDB could serve as a model database for distributing and navigating in vivo functional information from large-scale systematic phenotypic analyses in different organisms.
PMCID: PMC308844  PMID: 14681444
25.  In vivo RNAi: Today and Tomorrow 
RNA interference (RNAi) provides a powerful reverse genetics approach to analyze gene functions both in tissue culture and in vivo. Because of its widespread applicability and effectiveness it has become an essential part of the tool box kits of model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, and the mouse. In addition, the use of RNAi in animals in which genetic tools are either poorly developed or nonexistent enables a myriad of fundamental questions to be asked. Here, we review the methods and applications of in vivo RNAi to characterize gene functions in model organisms and discuss their impact to the study of developmental as well as evolutionary questions. Further, we discuss the applications of RNAi technologies to crop improvement, pest control and RNAi therapeutics, thus providing an appreciation of the potential for phenomenal applications of RNAi to agriculture and medicine.
In vivo RNAi technology is replacing classical genetics in screens and conditional targeting of gene function. It also has applications in crop improvement, pest control, and medicine.
PMCID: PMC2908776  PMID: 20534712

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