RNA interference (RNAi) is a mechanism that appears to control unwanted gene expression in a wide range of species. In Drosophila, RNAi is most effectively induced by double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) of over approximately 80 nucleotides (nt) and in mammalian cells an RNAi-like inhibition of gene expression has been shown to be mediated by dsRNAs of approximately 21-23 nt. To test if RNAi can be used to specifically down-regulate a human disease-related transcript we have used Drosophila and human tissue culture models of the dominant genetic disorder spinobulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA). A variety of different dsRNAs were assessed for the ability to inhibit expression of transcripts that included a truncated human androgen receptor (ar) gene containing different CAG repeat lengths (16-112 repeats). In Drosophila cells, dsRNAs corresponding to non-repetitive sequences mediated a high degree of sequence-specific inhibition, whereas RNA duplexes containing CAG repeat tracts only induced gene-specific inhibition when flanking ar sequences were included; dsRNAs containing various lengths of CAG repeats plus ar sequences were unable to induce allele-specific interference. In mammalian cells we tested sequence-specific small dsRNAs of 22 nt; these rescued the toxicity and caspase-3 activation induced by plasmids expressing a transcript encoding an expanded polyglutamine tract. This study demonstrates the feasibility of targeting a transcript associated with an important group of genetic diseases by RNAi.