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Concept: RNA interference


Although RNA interference (RNAi) is known to play an important part in defense against viruses of invertebrates, its contribution to mammalian anti-viral defense has been a matter of dispute. This is surprising because all components of the RNAi machinery necessary for robust RNAi-mediated restriction of viruses are conserved in mammals, and the introduction of synthetic small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) into cells efficiently silences the replication of viruses that contain siRNA complementary sequences in those cells. Here, I discuss the reasons for the dispute, and review the evidence that RNAi is a part of the physiological defense of mammalian cells against viral infections.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Bacteria, Virus, RNA, Small interfering RNA, RNA interference, RNA polymerase


BACKGROUND: RNA interference (RNAi) becomes an increasingly important and effective genetic tool to study the function of target genes by suppressing specific genes of interest. This system approach helps identify signaling pathways and cellular phase types by tracking intensity and/or morphological changes of cells. The traditional RNAi screening scheme, in which one siRNA is designed to knockdown one specific mRNA target, needs a large library of siRNAs and turns out to be time-consuming and expensive. RESULTS: In this paper, we propose a conceptual model, called compressed sensing RNAi (csRNAi), which employs the unique combination of group of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to knockdown a much larger size of genes. This strategy is based on the fact that one gene can be partially bound with several small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and conversely, one siRNA can bind to a few genes with distinct binding affinity. This model constructs a multi-to-multi correspondence between siRNAs and their targets, with siRNAs much fewer than mRNA targets, compared with the conventional scheme. Mathematically this problem involves an underdetermined system of equations (linear or nonlinear), which is ill-posed in general. However, the recently developed compressed sensing (CS) theory can solve this problem. We present a mathematical model to describe the csRNAi system based on both CS theory and biological concerns. To build this model, we first search nucleotide motifs in a target gene set. Then we propose a machine learning based method to find the effective siRNAs with novel features, such as image features and speech features to describe an siRNA sequence. Numerical simulations show that we can reduce the siRNA library to one third of that in the conventional scheme. In addition, the features to describe siRNAs outperform the existing ones substantially. CONCLUSIONS: This csRNAi system is very promising in saving both time and cost for large-scale RNAi screening experiments which may benefit the biological research with respect to cellular processes and pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Mathematics, RNA, Small interfering RNA, RNA interference


BACKGROUND: Introduction of a transgene that transcribes RNA homologous to an endogenous gene in the plant genome can induce silencing of both genes, a phenomenon termed cosuppression. Cosuppression was first discovered in transgenic petunia plants transformed with the CHS-A gene encoding chalcone synthase, in which nonpigmented sectors in flowers or completely white flowers are produced. Some of the flower-color patterns observed in transgenic petunias having CHS-A cosuppression resemble those in existing nontransgenic varieties. Although the mechanism by which white sectors are generated in nontransgenic petunia is known to be due to RNA silencing of the CHS-A gene as in cosuppression, whether the same trigger(s) and/or pattern of RNA degradation are involved in these phenomena has not been known. Here, we addressed this question using deep-sequencing and bioinformatic analyses of small RNAs. RESULTS: We analyzed short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) produced in nonpigmented sectors of petal tissues in transgenic petunia plants that have CHS-A cosuppression and a nontransgenic petunia variety Red Star, that has naturally occurring CHS-A RNA silencing. In both silencing systems, 21-nt and 22-nt siRNAs were the most and the second-most abundant size classes, respectively. CHS-A siRNA production was confined to exon 2, indicating that RNA degradation through the RNA silencing pathway occurred in this exon. Common siRNAs were detected in cosuppression and naturally occurring RNA silencing, and their ranks based on the number of siRNAs in these plants were correlated with each other. Noticeably, highly abundant siRNAs were common in these systems. Phased siRNAs were detected in multiple phases at multiple sites, and some of the ends of the regions that produced phased siRNAs were conserved. CONCLUSIONS: The features of siRNA production found to be common to cosuppression and naturally occurring silencing of the CHS-A gene indicate mechanistic similarities between these silencing systems especially in the biosynthetic processes of siRNAs including cleavage of CHS-A transcripts and subsequent production of secondary siRNAs in exon 2. The data also suggest that these events occurred at multiple sites, which can be a feature of these silencing phenomena.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Molecular biology, RNA, Messenger RNA, Small interfering RNA, RNA interference


Recent study has shown that RNA interference (RNAi) is efficient in emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis, and that ingestion of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) targeting specific genes causes gene silencing and mortality in neonates. Here, we report on the identification of highly effective target genes for RNAi-mediated control of EAB. We screened 13 candidate genes in neonate larvae and selected the most effective target genes for further investigation, including their effect on EAB adults and on a non-target organism, Tribolium castaneum. The two most efficient target genes selected, hsp (heat shock 70-kDa protein cognate 3) and shi (shibire), caused up to 90% mortality of larvae and adults. In EAB eggs, larvae, and adults, the hsp is expressed at higher levels when compared to that of shi. Ingestion of dsHSP and dsSHI caused mortality in both neonate larvae and adults. Administration of a mixture of both dsRNAs worked better than either dsRNA by itself. In contrast, injection of EAB.dsHSP and EAB.dsSHI did not cause mortality in T. castaneum. Thus, the two genes identified cause high mortality in the EAB with no apparent phenotype effects in a non-target organism, the red flour beetle, and could be used in RNAi-mediated control of this invasive pest.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, Virus, RNA, RNA interference, Emerald ash borer


The decline of oxygen tension in the tissues below the physiological demand leads to the hypoxic adaptive response. This physiological consequence enables cells to recover from this cellular insult. Understanding the cellular pathways that mediate recovery from hypoxia is therefore critical for developing novel therapeutic approaches for cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The master regulators of oxygen homeostasis that control angiogenesis during hypoxia are hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs). HIF-1 and HIF-2 function as transcriptional regulators and have both unique and overlapping target genes, whereas the role of HIF-3 is less clear. HIF-1 governs the acute adaptation to hypoxia, whereas HIF-2 and HIF-3 expressions begin during chronic hypoxia in human endothelium. When HIF-1 levels decline, HIF-2 and HIF-3 increase. This switch from HIF-1 to HIF-2 and HIF-3 signaling is required in order to adapt the endothelium to prolonged hypoxia. During prolonged hypoxia, the HIF-1 levels and activity are reduced, despite the lack of oxygen-dependent protein degradation. Although numerous protein factors have been proposed to modulate the HIF pathways, their application for HIF-targeted therapy is rather limited. Recently, the miRNAs that endogenously regulate gene expression via the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway have been shown to play critical roles in the hypoxia response pathways. Furthermore, these classes of RNAs provide therapeutic possibilities to selectively target HIFs and thus modulate the HIF switch. Here, we review the significance of the microRNAs on the relationship between the HIFs under both physiological and pathophysiological conditions.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Virus, RNA, RNA interference, Hypoxia


Argonaute (Ago) protein family plays a key role in the RNA interference (RNAi) process in different insects including Lepidopteran. However, the role of Ago proteins in the RNAi pathway of Plutella xylostella is still unknown. We cloned an Argonaute3 gene in P. xylostella (PxAgo3) with the complete coding sequence of 2832 bp. The encoded protein had 935 amino acids with an expected molecular weight of 108.9 kDa and an isoelectric point of 9.29. It contained a PAZ (PIWI/Argonaute/Zwile) domain and PIWI (P-element-induced whimpy testes) domain. PxAgo3 was classified into the Piwi subfamily of Ago proteins with a high similarity of 93.0% with Bombyx mori Ago3 (BmAgo3). The suppression of PxAgo3 by dsPxAgo3 was observed 3 h after treatment and was maintained until 24 h. Knockdown of PxAgo3 decreased the suppression level of PxActin by dsPxActin in P. xylostella cells, while overexpression of PxAgo3 increased the RNAi efficiency. Our results suggest that PxAgo3 play a key role in the double stranded RNA (dsRNA)-regulated RNAi pathway in P. xylostella.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Amino acid, Molecular biology, Virus, RNA, RNA interference


The outbreak of the Zika virus (ZIKV) has been associated with increased incidence of congenital malformations. Although recent efforts have focused on vaccine development, treatments for infected individuals are needed urgently. Sofosbuvir (SOF), an FDA-approved nucleotide analog inhibitor of the Hepatitis C (HCV) RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) was recently shown to be protective against ZIKV both in vitro and in vivo. Here, we show that SOF protected human neural progenitor cells (NPC) and 3D neurospheres from ZIKV infection-mediated cell death and importantly restored the antiviral immune response in NPCs. In vivo, SOF treatment post-infection (p.i.) decreased viral burden in an immunodeficient mouse model. Finally, we show for the first time that acute SOF treatment of pregnant dams p.i. was well-tolerated and prevented vertical transmission of the virus to the fetus. Taken together, our data confirmed SOF-mediated sparing of human neural cell types from ZIKV-mediated cell death in vitro and reduced viral burden in vivo in animal models of chronic infection and vertical transmission, strengthening the growing body of evidence for SOF anti-ZIKV activity.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, RNA, Developmental biology, Infection, RNA interference, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase


The influenza endonuclease is an essential subdomain of the viral RNA polymerase. It processes host pre-mRNAs to serve as primers for viral mRNA and is an attractive target for antiinfluenza drug discovery. Compound L-742,001 is a prototypical endonuclease inhibitor, and we found that repeated passaging of influenza virus in the presence of this drug did not lead to the development of resistant mutant strains. Reduced sensitivity to L-742,001 could only be induced by creating point mutations via a random mutagenesis strategy. These mutations mapped to the endonuclease active site where they can directly impact inhibitor binding. Engineered viruses containing the mutations showed resistance to L-742,001 both in vitro and in vivo, with only a modest reduction in fitness. Introduction of the mutations into a second virus also increased its resistance to the inhibitor. Using the isolated wild-type and mutant endonuclease domains, we used kinetics, inhibitor binding and crystallography to characterize how the two most significant mutations elicit resistance to L-742,001. These studies lay the foundation for the development of a new class of influenza therapeutics with reduced potential for the development of clinical endonuclease inhibitor-resistant influenza strains.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Mutation, Virus, RNA, RNA interference, Influenza, RNA polymerase


Major depression brings about a heavy socio-economic burden worldwide due to its high prevalence and the low efficacy of antidepressant drugs, mostly inhibiting the serotonin transporter (SERT). As a result, ~80% of patients show recurrent or chronic depression, resulting in a poor quality of life and increased suicide risk. RNA interference (RNAi) strategies have been preliminarily used to evoke antidepressant-like responses in experimental animals. However, the main limitation for the medical use of RNAi is the extreme difficulty to deliver oligonucleotides to selected neurons/systems in the mammalian brain. Here we show that the intranasal administration of a sertraline-conjugated small interfering RNA (C-SERT-siRNA) silenced SERT expression/function and evoked fast antidepressant-like responses in mice. After crossing the permeable olfactory epithelium, the sertraline-conjugated-siRNA was internalized and transported to serotonin cell bodies by deep Rab-7-associated endomembrane vesicles. Seven-day C-SERT-siRNA evoked similar or more marked responses than 28-day fluoxetine treatment. Hence, C-SERT-siRNA (i) downregulated 5-HT1A-autoreceptors and facilitated forebrain serotonin neurotransmission, (ii) accelerated the proliferation of neuronal precursors and (iii) increased hippocampal complexity and plasticity. Further, short-term C-SERT-siRNA reversed depressive-like behaviors in corticosterone-treated mice. The present results show the feasibility of evoking antidepressant-like responses by selectively targeting neuronal populations with appropriate siRNA strategies, opening a way for further translational studies.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 23 June 2015; doi:10.1038/mp.2015.80.

Concepts: Brain, RNA, RNA interference, Serotonin, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Major depressive disorder, Sertraline, Fluoxetine


RNA interference (RNAi) methods for insects are often limited by problems with double-stranded (ds) RNA delivery, which restricts reverse genetics studies and the development of RNAi-based biocides. We therefore delegated to insect symbiotic bacteria the task of: (i) constitutive dsRNA synthesis and (ii) trauma-free delivery. RNaseIII-deficient, dsRNA-expressing bacterial strains were created from the symbionts of two very diverse pest species: a long-lived blood-sucking bug, Rhodnius prolixus, and a short-lived globally invasive polyphagous agricultural pest, western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis). When ingested, the manipulated bacteria colonized the insects, successfully competed with the wild-type microflora, and sustainably mediated systemic knockdown phenotypes that were horizontally transmissible. This represents a significant advance in the ability to deliver RNAi, potentially to a large range of non-model insects.

Concepts: Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Virus, Genome, RNA, RNA interference, Symbiosis