Small interfering RNA (siRNA), sometimes known as short interfering RNA or silencing RNA, is a class of 20-25 nucleotide-long double-stranded RNA molecules that play a variety of roles in biology. Most notably, siRNA is involved in the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, where it interferes with the expression of a specific gene. In addition to their role in the RNAi pathway, siRNAs also act in RNAi-related pathways, e.g., as an antiviral mechanism or in shaping the chromatin structure of a genome; the complexity of these pathways is only now being elucidated.Subscribe in a reader
siRNAs were first discovered by David Baulcombe's group in Norwich, England, as part of post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) in plants. The group published their findings in Science in a paper titled "A species of small antisense RNA in posttranscriptional gene silencing in plants". Shortly thereafter, in 2001, synthetic siRNAs were shown to be able to induce RNAi in mammalian cells by Thomas Tuschl and colleagues in a paper published in Nature. This discovery led to a surge in interest in harnessing RNAi for biomedical research and drug development.Structure
siRNAs have a well-defined structure: a short (usually 21-nt) double strand of RNA (dsRNA) with 2-nt 3' overhangs on either end:
Each strand has a 5' phosphate group and a 3' hydroxyl (-OH) group. This structure is the result of processing by dicer, an enzyme that converts either long dsRNAs or small hairpin RNAs into siRNAs.SiRNAs can also be exogenously (artificially) introduced into cells by various transfection methods to bring about the specific knockdown of a gene of interest. Essentially any gene of which the sequence is known can thus be targeted based on sequence complementarity with an appropriately tailored siRNA. This has made siRNAs an important tool for gene function and drug target validation studies in the post-genomic era.