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      Knocking down barriers: advances in siRNA delivery


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          Key Points

          • RNA interference (RNAi) is a fundamental pathway in eukaryotic cells by which sequence-specific small interfering RNA (siRNA) is able to silence genes through the destruction of complementary mRNA. RNAi is an important therapeutic tool that can be used to silence aberrant endogenous genes or to knockdown genes essential to the proliferation of infectious organisms.

          • Delivery remains the central challenge to the therapeutic application of RNAi technology. Before siRNA can take effect in the cytoplasm of a target cell, it must be transported through the body to the target site without undergoing clearance or degradation.

          • Currently, the most effective synthetic, non-viral delivery agents of siRNA are lipids, lipid-like materials and polymers.

          • Various cationic agents including stable nucleic acid–lipid particles, lipidoids, cyclodextrin polymers and polyethyleneimine polymers have been used to achieve the successful systemic delivery of siRNA in mammals without inducing significant toxicity.

          • Direct conjugation of delivery agents to siRNA can facilitate delivery. For example, cholesterol-modified siRNA enables targeting to the liver.

          • RNAi therapeutics have progressed to the clinic, where studies are being conducted to determine siRNA efficacy in treating several diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and respiratory syncytial virus.

          • Moving forward, it will be important to pay close attention to the potential nonspecific immunostimulatory effects of siRNA. Modifications to siRNA can be used to minimize stimulation of the immune system, and an increased emphasis must be placed on performing proper controls to ensure that therapeutic effects are sequence-specific.


          RNA interference holds vast potential as a therapeutic strategy for both disease prevention and treatment, but its use has so far been hampered by a lack of safe and effective delivery techniques. In their Review, Anderson and colleagues discuss the challenges associated with small interfering RNA delivery and highlight promising novel synthetic delivery agents.


          In the 10 years that have passed since the Nobel prize-winning discovery of RNA interference (RNAi), billions of dollars have been invested in the therapeutic application of gene silencing in humans. Today, there are promising data from ongoing clinical trials for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and respiratory syncytial virus. Despite these early successes, however, the widespread use of RNAi therapeutics for disease prevention and treatment requires the development of clinically suitable, safe and effective drug delivery vehicles. Here, we provide an update on the progress of RNAi therapeutics and highlight novel synthetic materials for the encapsulation and intracellular delivery of nucleic acids.

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          Most cited references71

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          Passenger-strand cleavage facilitates assembly of siRNA into Ago2-containing RNAi enzyme complexes.

          In the Drosophila and mammalian RNA interference pathways, siRNAs direct the protein Argonaute2 (Ago2) to cleave corresponding mRNA targets, silencing their expression. Ago2 is the catalytic component of the RNAi enzyme complex, RISC. For each siRNA duplex, only one strand, the guide, is assembled into the active RISC; the other strand, the passenger, is destroyed. An ATP-dependent helicase has been proposed first to separate the two siRNA strands, then the resulting single-stranded guide is thought to bind Ago2. Here, we show that Ago2 instead directly receives the double-stranded siRNA from the RISC assembly machinery. Ago2 then cleaves the siRNA passenger strand, thereby liberating the single-stranded guide. For siRNAs, virtually all RISC is assembled through this cleavage-assisted mechanism. In contrast, passenger-strand cleavage is not important for the incorporation of miRNAs that derive from mismatched duplexes.
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            RNAi-mediated gene silencing in non-human primates.

            The opportunity to harness the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway to silence disease-causing genes holds great promise for the development of therapeutics directed against targets that are otherwise not addressable with current medicines. Although there are numerous examples of in vivo silencing of target genes after local delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), there remain only a few reports of RNAi-mediated silencing in response to systemic delivery of siRNA, and there are no reports of systemic efficacy in non-rodent species. Here we show that siRNAs, when delivered systemically in a liposomal formulation, can silence the disease target apolipoprotein B (ApoB) in non-human primates. APOB-specific siRNAs were encapsulated in stable nucleic acid lipid particles (SNALP) and administered by intravenous injection to cynomolgus monkeys at doses of 1 or 2.5 mg kg(-1). A single siRNA injection resulted in dose-dependent silencing of APOB messenger RNA expression in the liver 48 h after administration, with maximal silencing of >90%. This silencing effect occurred as a result of APOB mRNA cleavage at precisely the site predicted for the RNAi mechanism. Significant reductions in ApoB protein, serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels were observed as early as 24 h after treatment and lasted for 11 days at the highest siRNA dose, thus demonstrating an immediate, potent and lasting biological effect of siRNA treatment. Our findings show clinically relevant RNAi-mediated gene silencing in non-human primates, supporting RNAi therapeutics as a potential new class of drugs.
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              Sequence-dependent stimulation of the mammalian innate immune response by synthetic siRNA.

              Short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that mediate specific gene silencing through RNA interference (RNAi) are widely used to study gene function and are also being developed for therapeutic applications. Many nucleic acids, including double- (dsRNA) and single-stranded RNA (ssRNA), can stimulate innate cytokine responses in mammals. Despite this, few studies have questioned whether siRNA may have a similar effect on the immune system. This could significantly influence the in vivo application of siRNA owing to off-target effects and toxicities associated with immune stimulation. Here we report that synthetic siRNAs formulated in nonviral delivery vehicles can be potent inducers of interferons and inflammatory cytokines both in vivo in mice and in vitro in human blood. The immunostimulatory activity of formulated siRNAs and the associated toxicities are dependent on the nucleotide sequence. We have identified putative immunostimulatory motifs that have allowed the design of siRNAs that can mediate RNAi but induce minimal immune activation.

                Author and article information

                Nat Rev Drug Discov
                Nat Rev Drug Discov
                Nature Reviews. Drug Discovery
                Nature Publishing Group UK (London )
                : 8
                : 2
                : 129-138
                [1 ]GRID grid.116068.8, ISNI 0000 0001 2341 2786, Department of Chemical Engineering, , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ; Cambridge, 02142 Massachusetts USA
                [2 ]GRID grid.116068.8, ISNI 0000 0001 2341 2786, The David H. Koch Institute for Integrated Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ; Cambridge, 02142 Massachusetts USA
                © Nature Publishing Group 2009

                This article is made available via the PMC Open Access Subset for unrestricted research re-use and secondary analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

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                © Springer Nature Limited 2009


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