A number of groups have shown that the dsRNA-induced antiviral response is absent from mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and at least one cell line of embryonic origin. (41, 42) It is therefore possible to use long dsRNAs to silence specific genes in these specific mammalian cells. However, the antiviral response precludes the use of long dsRNAs to induce RNAi in most other mammalian cell types.
siRNAs Bypass the Antiviral
Interestingly, dsRNAs less than 30 nt in length do not activate the PKR kinase pathway. This observation, as well as knowledge that long dsRNAs are cleaved to form siRNAs in worms and flies and that siRNAs can induce RNAi in Drosophila embryo lysates, prompted researchers to test whether introduction of siRNAs could induce gene-specific silencing in mammalian cells (43). Indeed, siRNAs introduced by transient transfection were found to effectively induce RNAi in mammalian cultured cells in a sequence-specific manner. The effectiveness of siRNAs varies the most potent siRNAs result in >90% reduction in target RNA and protein levels (44-46). The most effective siRNAs turn out to be 21 nt dsRNAs with 2 nt 3' overhangs. Sequence specificity of siRNA is very stringent, as single base pair mismatches between the siRNA and its target mRNA dramatically reduce silencing (44, 47). Unfortunately, not all siRNAs