RNAi-induced off-target effects in Drosophila melanogaster: frequencies and solutions.
ABSTRACT Genes can be silenced with short-interfering RNA molecules (siRNA). siRNAs are widely used to identify gene functions and have high potential for therapeutic treatments. It is critical that the siRNA specifically targets the expression of the gene of interest but has no off-target effects on other genes. Although siRNAs were initially considered to be exclusively active on mature mRNAs in the cytoplasm, additional studies have shown that siRNAs are present in the nucleus as well, suggesting that pre-mRNA sequences containing introns and other untranslated regions can also be targeted. In this study, we investigated the extent to which off-targets may occur in Drosophila melanogaster by looking at mature mRNA sequences and pre-mature RNA sequences separately. First, an in silico approach revealed that, based on sequence similarity, numerous off-targets are predicted to occur in RNAi experiments. Second, existing microarray data were used to investigate a possible effect of the predicted off-targets based on analysis of in vitro data. We found that the occurrence of off-targets in both mature and pre-mature RNA sequences in RNAi experiments can be extensive and significant. Possibilities are discussed how to minimize off-target effects.