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1.  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
2.  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
3.  A computational study of off-target effects of RNA interference 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(6):1834-1847.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an intracellular mechanism for post-transcriptional gene silencing that is frequently used to study gene function. RNAi is initiated by short interfering RNA (siRNA) of ∼21 nt in length, either generated from the double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) by using the enzyme Dicer or introduced experimentally. Following association with an RNAi silencing complex, siRNA targets mRNA transcripts that have sequence identity for destruction. A phenotype resulting from this knockdown of expression may inform about the function of the targeted gene. However, ‘off-target effects’ compromise the specificity of RNAi if sequence identity between siRNA and random mRNA transcripts causes RNAi to knockdown expression of non-targeted genes. The complete off-target effects must be investigated systematically on each gene in a genome by adjusting a group of parameters, which is too expensive to conduct experimentally and motivates a study in silico. This computational study examined the potential for off-target effects of RNAi, employing the genome and transcriptome sequence data of Homo sapiens, Caenorhabditis elegans and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. The chance for RNAi off-target effects proved considerable, ranging from 5 to 80% for each of the organisms, when using as parameter the exact identity between any possible siRNA sequences (arbitrary length ranging from 17 to 28 nt) derived from a dsRNA (range 100–400 nt) representing the coding sequences of target genes and all other siRNAs within the genome. Remarkably, high-sequence specificity and low probability for off-target reactivity were optimally balanced for siRNA of 21 nt, the length observed mostly in vivo. The chance for off-target RNAi increased (although not always significantly) with greater length of the initial dsRNA sequence, inclusion into the analysis of available untranslated region sequences and allowing for mismatches between siRNA and target sequences. siRNA sequences from within 100 nt of the 5′ termini of coding sequences had low chances for off-target reactivity. This may be owing to coding constraints for signal peptide-encoding regions of genes relative to regions that encode for mature proteins. Off-target distribution varied along the chromosomes of C.elegans, apparently owing to the use of more unique sequences in gene-dense regions. Finally, biological and thermodynamical descriptors of effective siRNA reduced the number of potential siRNAs compared with those identified by sequence identity alone, but off-target RNAi remained likely, with an off-target error rate of ∼10%. These results also suggest a direction for future in vivo studies that could both help in calibrating true off-target rates in living organisms and also in contributing evidence toward the debate of whether siRNA efficacy is correlated with, or independent of, the target molecule. In summary, off-target effects present a real but not prohibitive concern that should be considered for RNAi experiments.
PMCID: PMC1072799  PMID: 15800213
4.  The Caenorhabditis elegans RDE-10/RDE-11 complex regulates RNAi by promoting secondary siRNA amplification 
Current Biology  2012;22(10):881-890.
In nematodes, plants and fungi, RNAi is remarkably potent and persistent due to the amplification of initial silencing signals by RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRPs). In Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), the interaction between the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) loaded with primary siRNAs and the target mRNA leads to the recruitment of RdRPs and synthesis of secondary siRNAs using the target mRNA as the template. The mechanism and genetic requirements for secondary siRNA accumulation are not well understood.
From a forward genetic screen for C. elegans genes required for RNAi, we identified rde-10 and through proteomic analysis of RDE-10-interacting proteins, we identified a protein complex containing the new RNAi factor RDE-11, the known RNAi factors RSD-2 and ERGO-1, as well as other candidate RNAi factors. The RNAi defective genes rde-10 and rde-11 encode a novel protein and a RING-type zinc finger domain protein, respectively. Mutations in rde-10 and rde-11 genes cause dosage-sensitive RNAi deficiencies: these mutants are resistant to low dosage, but sensitive to high dosage of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). We assessed the roles of rde-10, rde-11, and other dosage-sensitive RNAi-defective genes rsd-2, rsd-6 and haf-6 in both exogenous and endogenous small RNA pathways using high-throughput sequencing and qRT-PCR. These genes are required for the accumulation of secondary siRNAs in both exogenous and endogenous RNAi pathways.
The RDE-10/RDE-11 complex is essential for the amplification of RNAi in C. elegans by promoting secondary siRNA accumulation.
PMCID: PMC3371361  PMID: 22542102
rde-10; rde-11; RNAi; endogenous siRNAs; RNA silencing protein co-factors
5.  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
6.  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
7.  RNAi Effector Diversity in Nematodes 
While RNA interference (RNAi) has been deployed to facilitate gene function studies in diverse helminths, parasitic nematodes appear variably susceptible. To test if this is due to inter-species differences in RNAi effector complements, we performed a primary sequence similarity survey for orthologs of 77 Caenorhabditis elegans RNAi pathway proteins in 13 nematode species for which genomic or transcriptomic datasets were available, with all outputs subjected to domain-structure verification. Our dataset spanned transcriptomes of Ancylostoma caninum and Oesophagostomum dentatum, and genomes of Trichinella spiralis, Ascaris suum, Brugia malayi, Haemonchus contortus, Meloidogyne hapla, Meloidogyne incognita and Pristionchus pacificus, as well as the Caenorhabditis species C. brenneri, C. briggsae, C. japonica and C. remanei, and revealed that: (i) Most of the C. elegans proteins responsible for uptake and spread of exogenously applied double stranded (ds)RNA are absent from parasitic species, including RNAi-competent plant-nematodes; (ii) The Argonautes (AGOs) responsible for gene expression regulation in C. elegans are broadly conserved, unlike those recruited during the induction of RNAi by exogenous dsRNA; (iii) Secondary Argonautes (SAGOs) are poorly conserved, and the nuclear AGO NRDE-3 was not identified in any parasite; (iv) All five Caenorhabditis spp. possess an expanded RNAi effector repertoire relative to the parasitic nematodes, consistent with the propensity for gene loss in nematode parasites; (v) In spite of the quantitative differences in RNAi effector complements across nematode species, all displayed qualitatively similar coverage of functional protein groups. In summary, we could not identify RNAi effector deficiencies that associate with reduced susceptibility in parasitic nematodes. Indeed, similarities in the RNAi effector complements of RNAi refractory and competent nematode parasites support the broad applicability of this research genetic tool in nematodes.
Author Summary
Many organisms regulate gene expression through an RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, first characterized in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. This pathway can be triggered experimentally using double-stranded (ds)RNA to selected gene targets, thereby allowing researchers to ‘silence’ individual genes and so investigate their function. It is hoped that this technology will facilitate gene silencing in important parasitic nematodes that impose a considerable health and economic burden on mankind. Unfortunately, differences in RNAi susceptibility have been observed between species. Here we investigated the possibility that differences in the complement of effector proteins involved in the RNAi pathway are responsible for these differences in susceptibility. Our data revealed that most facets of the RNAi pathway are well represented across parasitic nematodes, although there were fewer pathway proteins in other nematodes compared to C. elegans. In contrast, the proteins responsible for uptake and spread of dsRNA are not well represented in parasitic nematodes. However, the importance of these differences is undermined by our observation that the protein complements in all the parasites were qualitatively similar, regardless of RNAi-susceptibility. Clearly, differences in the RNAi pathway of parasitic nematodes do not explain the variations in susceptibility to experimental RNAi.
PMCID: PMC3110158  PMID: 21666793
8.  Development of Functional Genomic Tools in Trematodes: RNA Interference and Luciferase Reporter Gene Activity in Fasciola hepatica 
The growing availability of sequence information from diverse parasites through genomic and transcriptomic projects offer new opportunities for the identification of key mediators in the parasite–host interaction. Functional genomics approaches and methods for the manipulation of genes are essential tools for deciphering the roles of genes and to identify new intervention targets in parasites. Exciting advances in functional genomics for parasitic helminths are starting to occur, with transgene expression and RNA interference (RNAi) reported in several species of nematodes, but the area is still in its infancy in flatworms, with reports in just three species. While advancing in model organisms, there is a need to rapidly extend these technologies to other parasites responsible for several chronic diseases of humans and cattle. In order to extend these approaches to less well studied parasitic worms, we developed a test method for the presence of a viable RNAi pathway by silencing the exogenous reporter gene, firefly luciferase (fLUC). We established the method in the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni and then confirmed its utility in the liver fluke Fasciola hepatica. We transformed newly excysted juveniles of F. hepatica by electroporation with mRNA of fLUC and three hours later were able to detect luciferase enzyme activity, concentrated mainly in the digestive ceca. Subsequently, we tested the presence of an active RNAi pathway in F. hepatica by knocking down the exogenous luciferase activity by introduction into the transformed parasites of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) specific for fLUC. In addition, we tested the RNAi pathway targeting an endogenous F. hepatica gene encoding leucine aminopeptidase (FhLAP), and observed a significant reduction in specific mRNA levels. In summary, these studies demonstrated the utility of RNAi targeting reporter fLUC as a reporter gene assay to establish the presence of an intact RNAi pathway in helminth parasites. These could facilitate the study of gene function and the identification of relevant targets for intervention in organisms that are by other means intractable. More specifically, these results open new perspectives for functional genomics of F. hepatica, which hopefully can lead to the development of new interventions for fascioliasis.
Author Summary
Reverse genetics tools allow assessing the function of unknown genes. Their application for the study of neglected infectious diseases could lead eventually to the identification of relevant gene products to be used in diagnosis, or as drug targets or immunization candidates. Being technically more simple and less demanding than other reverse genetics tools such as transgenesis or knockouts, the suppression of gene activity mediated by double-stranded RNA has emerged as a powerful tool for the analysis of gene function. RNAi appeared as an obvious alternative to apply in complex biological systems where information is still scarce, a situation common to several infectious and parasitic diseases. However, several technical or practical difficulties have hampered the development of this technique in parasites to the expectations originally generated. We developed a simple method to test the presence of a viable RNAi pathway by silencing an exogenous reporter gene. The method was tested in F. hepatica, describing the conditions for transfection and confirming the existence of a viable RNAi pathway in this parasite. The experimental design created can be useful as a first approach in organisms where genetic analysis is still unavailable, providing a tool to unravel gene function and probably advancing new candidates relevant in pathobiology, prevention or treatment.
PMCID: PMC2440534  PMID: 18612418
9.  RNA Interference in Schistosoma mansoni Schistosomula: Selectivity, Sensitivity and Operation for Larger-Scale Screening 
The possible emergence of resistance to the only available drug for schistosomiasis spurs drug discovery that has been recently incentivized by the availability of improved transcriptome and genome sequence information. Transient RNAi has emerged as a straightforward and important technique to interrogate that information through decreased or loss of gene function and identify potential drug targets. To date, RNAi studies in schistosome stages infecting humans have focused on single (or up to 3) genes of interest. Therefore, in the context of standardizing larger RNAi screens, data are limited on the extent of possible off-targeting effects, gene-to-gene variability in RNAi efficiency and the operational capabilities and limits of RNAi.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We investigated in vitro the sensitivity and selectivity of RNAi using double-stranded (ds)RNA (approximately 500 bp) designed to target 11 Schistosoma mansoni genes that are expressed in different tissues; the gut, tegument and otherwise. Among the genes investigated were 5 that had been previously predicted to be essential for parasite survival. We employed mechanically transformed schistosomula that are relevant to parasitism in humans, amenable to screen automation and easier to obtain in greater numbers than adult parasites. The operational parameters investigated included defined culture media for optimal parasite maintenance, transfection strategy, time- and dose- dependency of RNAi, and dosing limits. Of 7 defined culture media tested, Basch Medium 169 was optimal for parasite maintenance. RNAi was best achieved by co-incubating parasites and dsRNA (standardized to 30 µg/ml for 6 days); electroporation provided no added benefit. RNAi, including interference of more than one transcript, was selective to the gene target(s) within the pools of transcripts representative of each tissue. Concentrations of dsRNA above 90 µg/ml were directly toxic. RNAi efficiency was transcript-dependent (from 40 to >75% knockdown relative to controls) and this may have contributed to the lack of obvious phenotypes observed, even after prolonged incubations of 3 weeks. Within minutes of their mechanical preparation from cercariae, schistosomula accumulated fluorescent macromolecules in the gut indicating that the gut is an important route through which RNAi is expedited in the developing parasite.
Transient RNAi operates gene-selectively in S. mansoni newly transformed schistosomula yet the sensitivity of individual gene targets varies. These findings and the operational parameters defined will facilitate larger RNAi screens.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) is a technique to selectively suppress mRNA of individual genes and, consequently, their cognate proteins. RNAi using double-stranded (ds) RNA has been used to interrogate the function of mainly single genes in the flatworm, Schistosoma mansoni, one of a number of schistosome species causing schistosomiasis. In consideration of large-scale screens to identify candidate drug targets, we examined the selectivity and sensitivity (the degree of suppression) of RNAi for 11 genes produced in different tissues of the parasite: the gut, tegument (surface) and otherwise. We used the schistosomulum stage prepared from infective cercariae larvae which are accessible in large numbers and adaptable to automated screening platforms. We found that RNAi suppresses transcripts selectively, however, the sensitivity of suppression varies (40%–>75%). No obvious changes in the parasite occurred post-RNAi, including after targeting the mRNA of genes that had been computationally predicted to be essential for survival. Additionally, we defined operational parameters to facilitate large-scale RNAi, including choice of culture medium, transfection strategy to deliver dsRNA, dose- and time-dependency, and dosing limits. Finally, using fluorescent probes, we show that the developing gut allows rapid entrance of dsRNA into the parasite to initiate RNAi.
PMCID: PMC2957409  PMID: 20976050
10.  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
11.  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  PMID: 24705267
Drosophila; genome-wide screen; RNAi library; false results; interaction network
12.  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
13.  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
14.  Persistence of Different Forms of Transient RNAi during Apoptosis in Mammalian Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12263.
Gene silencing by transient or stable RNA-interference (RNAi) is used for the study of apoptosis with an assumption that apoptotic events will not influence RNAi. However, we recently reported that stable RNAi, i.e., a permanent gene-knockdown mediated by shRNA-generating DNA vectors that are integrated in the genome, fails rapidly after induction of apoptosis due to caspase-3-mediated cleavage and inactivation of the endoribonuclease Dicer-1 that is required for conversion of shRNA to siRNA. Since apoptosis studies also increasingly employ transient RNAi models in which apoptosis is induced immediately after a gene is temporarily knocked down within a few days of transfection with RNAi-inducing agents, we examined the impact of apoptosis on various models of transient RNAi. We report here that unlike the stable RNAi, all forms of transient RNAi, whether Dicer-1-independent (by 21mer dsRNA) or Dicer-1-dependent (by 27mer dsRNA or shRNA-generating DNA vector), whether for an exogenous gene GFP or an endogenous gene poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1, do not fail for 2–3 days after onset of apoptosis. Our results reflect the differences in dynamics of achieving and maintaining RNAi during the early phase after transfection in the transient RNAi model and the late steady-state phase of gene-knockdown in stable RNAi model. Our results also sound a cautionary note that RNAi status should be frequently validated in the studies involving apoptosis and that while stable RNAi can be safely used for the study of early apoptotic events, transient RNAi is more suitable for the study of both early and late apoptotic events.
PMCID: PMC2923616  PMID: 20805889
15.  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
16.  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
17.  Phenotypic Screen of Early-Developing Larvae of the Blood Fluke, Schistosoma mansoni, using RNA Interference 
RNA interference (RNAi) represents the only method currently available for manipulating gene-specific expression in Schistosoma spp., although application of this technology as a functional genomic profiling tool has yet to be explored. In the present study 32 genes, including antioxidants, transcription factors, cell signaling molecules and metabolic enzymes, were selected to determine if gene knockdown by RNAi was associated with morphologically definable phenotypic changes in early intramolluscan larval development. Transcript selection was based on their high expression in in vitro cultured S. mansoni primary sporocysts and/or their potential involvement in developmental processes. Miracidia were allowed to transform to sporocysts in the presence of synthesized double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) and cultivated for 7 days, during which time developing larvae were closely observed for phenotypic changes including failure/delay in transformation, loss of motility, altered growth and death. Of the phenotypes evaluated, only one was consistently detected; namely a reduction in sporocyst size based on length measurements. The size-reducing phenotype was observed in 11 of the 33 (33%) dsRNA treatment groups, and of these 11 phenotype-associated genes (superoxide dismutase, Smad1, RHO2, Smad2, Cav2A, ring box, GST26, calcineurin B, Smad4, lactate dehydrogenase and EF1α), only 6 demonstrated a significant and consistent knockdown of specific transcript expression. Unexpectedly one phenotype-linked gene, superoxide dismutase (SOD), was highly induced (∼1600-fold) upon dsRNA exposure. Variation in dsRNA-mediated silencing effects also was evident in the group of sporocysts that lacked any definable phenotype. Out of 22 nonphenotype-expressing dsRNA treatments (myosin, PKCB, HEXBP, calcium channel, Sma2, RHO1, PKC receptor, DHHC, PepcK, calreticulin, calpain, Smeg, 14.3.3, K5, SPO1, SmZF1, fibrillarin, GST28, GPx, TPx1, TPx2 and TPx2/TPx1), 12 were assessed for the transcript levels. Of those, 6 genes exhibited consistent reductions in steady-state transcript levels, while expression level for the rest remained unchanged. Results demonstrate that the efficacy of dsRNA-treatment in producing consistent phenotypic changes and/or altered gene expression levels in S. mansoni sporocysts is highly dependent on the selected gene (or the specific dsRNA sequence used) and the timing of evaluation after treatment. Although RNAi holds great promise as a functional genomics tool for larval schistosomes, our finding of potential off-target or nonspecific effects of some dsRNA treatments and variable efficiencies in specific gene knockdown indicate a critical need for gene-specific testing and optimization as an essential part of experimental design, execution and data interpretation.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) represents the only method currently available for manipulating gene-specific expression in human blood flukes, Schistosoma spp., although its application as a functional genomics tool in early intramolluscan larval stages has been limited to single gene analyses. Accelerating gene discovery efforts over the past 10 years have resulted in extensive, ever-increasing databases of genomic, transcriptomic and EST sequences. Unfortunately, our understanding of the function of the vast majority of these genes has not kept pace with their discovery, and this represents a significant barrier and the next real challenge for investigators of schistosomes, and other parasitic helminths. In the present study, we selected an array of 32 genes expressed in S. mansoni sporocysts to evaluate their susceptibility to double-stranded (ds)RNA treatment and to begin characterizing morphological phenotypes associated with a potential RNAi effect. Results demonstrate that gene knockdown and/or resulting phenotypes are highly transcript-dependent (specific dsRNA sequence used) and vary with time post-dsRNA exposure. Because of this potential variability in both transcript and phenotype expression in response to dsRNA treatment, our findings illustrate that, although a RNAi-type approach holds great promise as a functional reverse-genetics tool for larval schistosomes, its application requires caution in the design and execution of experiments and interpretation of results.
PMCID: PMC2719580  PMID: 19668375
18.  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
19.  Reliability analysis of the Ahringer Caenorhabditis elegans RNAi feeding library: a guide for genome-wide screens 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:170.
The Ahringer C. elegans RNAi feeding library prepared by cloning genomic DNA fragments has been widely used in genome-wide analysis of gene function. However, the library has not been thoroughly validated by direct sequencing, and there are potential errors, including: 1) mis-annotation (the clone with the retired gene name should be remapped to the actual target gene); 2) nonspecific PCR amplification; 3) cross-RNAi; 4) mis-operation such as sample loading error, etc.
Here we performed a reliability analysis on the Ahringer C. elegans RNAi feeding library, which contains 16,256 bacterial strains, using a bioinformatics approach. Results demonstrated that most (98.3%) of the bacterial strains in the library are reliable. However, we also found that 2,851 (17.54%) bacterial strains need to be re-annotated even they are reliable. Most of these bacterial strains are the clones having the retired gene names. Besides, 28 strains are grouped into unreliable category and 226 strains are marginal because of probably expressing unrelated double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). The accuracy of the prediction was further confirmed by direct sequencing analysis of 496 bacterial strains. Finally, a freely accessible database named CelRNAi ( was developed as a valuable complement resource for the feeding RNAi library by providing the predicted information on all bacterial strains. Moreover, submission of the direct sequencing result or any other annotations for the bacterial strains to the database are allowed and will be integrated into the CelRNAi database to improve the accuracy of the library. In addition, we provide five candidate primer sets for each of the unreliable and marginal bacterial strains for users to construct an alternative vector for their own RNAi studies.
Because of the potential unreliability of the Ahringer C. elegans RNAi feeding library, we strongly suggest the user examine the reliability information of the bacterial strains in the CelRNAi database before performing RNAi experiments, as well as the post-RNAi experiment analysis.
PMCID: PMC3087708  PMID: 21453524
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.  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
22.  Dissecting Systemic RNA Interference in the Red Flour Beetle Tribolium castaneum: Parameters Affecting the Efficiency of RNAi 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47431.
The phenomenon of RNAi, in which the introduction of dsRNA into a cell triggers the destruction of the corresponding mRNA resulting in a gene silencing effect, is conserved across a wide array of plant and animal phyla. However, the mechanism by which the dsRNA enters a cell, allowing the RNAi effect to occur throughout a multicellular organism (systemic RNAi), has only been studied extensively in certain plants and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In recent years, RNAi has become a popular reverse genetic technique for gene silencing in many organisms. Although many RNAi techniques in non-traditional model organisms rely on the systemic nature of RNAi, little has been done to analyze the parameters required to obtain a robust systemic RNAi response. The data provided here show that the concentration and length of dsRNA have profound effects on the efficacy of the RNAi response both in regard to initial efficiency and duration of the effect in Tribolium castaneum. In addition, our analyses using a series of short dsRNAs and chimeric dsRNA provide evidence that dsRNA cellular uptake (and not the RNAi response itself) is the major step affected by dsRNA size in Tribolium. We also demonstrate that competitive inhibition of dsRNA can occur when multiple dsRNAs are injected together, influencing the effectiveness of RNAi. These data provide specific information essential to the design and implementation of RNAi based studies, and may provide insight into the molecular basis of the systemic RNAi response in insects.
PMCID: PMC3484993  PMID: 23133513
23.  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
24.  A nuclear Argonaute promotes multi-generational epigenetic inheritance and germline immortality 
Nature  2012;489(7416):447-451.
Epigenetic information is frequently erased near the start of each new generation (1). In some cases, however, epigenetic information can be transmitted from parent to progeny (epigenetic inheritance) (2). A particularly striking example of epigenetic inheritance is dsRNA-mediated gene silencing (RNAi) in C. elegans, which can be inherited for more than five generations (3–8). To understand this process we conducted a genetic screen for animals defective for transmitting RNAi silencing signals to future generations. This screen identified the gene heritable RNAi defective (hrde)-1. hrde-1 encodes an Argonaute (Ago) that associates with small interfering (si)RNAs in germ cells of the progeny of animals exposed to dsRNA. In nuclei of these germ cells, HRDE-1 engages the Nrde nuclear RNAi pathway to direct H3K9me3 at RNAi targeted genomic loci and promote RNAi inheritance. Under normal growth conditions, HRDE-1 associates with endogenously expressed siRNAs, which direct nuclear gene silencing in germ cells. In hrde-1 or nuclear RNAi deficient animals, germline silencing is lost over generational time. Concurrently, these animals exhibit steadily worsening defects in gamete formation and function that ultimately lead to sterility. These results establish that the Ago HRDE-1 directs gene-silencing events in germ cell nuclei, which drive multi-generational RNAi inheritance and promote immortality of the germ cell lineage. We propose that C. elegans uses the RNAi inheritance machinery to transmit epigenetic information, accrued by past generations, into future generations to regulate important biological processes.
PMCID: PMC3509936  PMID: 22810588
25.  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

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