Inhibition of Viruses by RNA Interference
RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) is a recently discovered process by which dsRNA is able to silence specific gene functions. Although initially described in plants, nematodes and Drosophila, the process is currently considered to be an evolutionarily conserved process that is present in the entire eukaryotic kingdom in which its original function was as a defense mechanism against viruses and foreign nucleic acids. Similarly to the silencing of genes by RNAi, viral functions can be also silenced by the same mechanism, through the introduction of specific dsRNA molecules into cells, where they are targeted to essential genes or directly to the viral genome in case RNA viruses, thus arresting viral replication. Since the pioneering work of Elbashir and coworkers, who identified RNAi activity in mammalian cells, many publications have described the inhibition of viruses belonging to most if not all viral families, by targeting and silencing diverse viral genes as well as cell genes that are essential for virus replication. Moreover, virus expression vectors were developed and used as vehicles with which to deliver siRNAs into cells. This review will describe the use of RNAi to inhibit virus replication directly, as well as through the silencing of the appropriate cell functions.