Derivation and function of small interfering RNAs and microRNAs.
Small interfering RNA (siRNA) duplexes are generally produced by Dicer cleavage of double-stranded RNAs of frequently exogenous origin and can induce the cleavage and degradation of mRNAs bearing an identical sequence. In contrast, microRNAs (miRNAs) are encoded within the eukaryotic genome as short RNA hairpin structures. While these pre-miRNAs are also processed by Dicer, mature miRNAs appear to function primarily by inhibiting the translation of mRNAs bearing multiple, partially mismatched target sites. Nevertheless, recent data argue that the posttranscriptional regulatory machinery utilized by siRNAs and miRNAs is largely or entirely identical. In this review, I will discuss recent progress in unraveling the RNA processing pathway utilized for the biosynthesis of mature miRNAs and argue that this pathway offers at least three distinct entry points for the functional expression of artificial siRNAs in vertebrate cells. While each of these entry points offers distinct advantages and disadvantages, they all have the potential to induce the effective knock-down of specific genes either in cell culture or in experimental animals.
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