Many commonly used siRNAs risk off-target activity

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2004 Jun 18;319(1):256-63. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2004.04.175.


Using small interfering RNA (siRNA) to induce sequence specific gene silencing is fast becoming a standard tool in functional genomics. As siRNAs in some cases tolerate mismatches with the mRNA target, knockdown of genes other than the intended target could make results difficult to interpret. In an investigation of 359 published siRNA sequences, we have found that about 75% of them have a risk of eliciting non-specific effects. A possible cause for this is the popular BLAST search engine, which is inappropriate for such short oligos as siRNAs. Furthermore, we used new special purpose hardware to do a transcriptome-wide screening of all possible siRNAs, and show that many unique siRNAs exist per target even if several mismatches are allowed. Hence, we argue that the risk of off-target effects is unnecessary and should be avoided in future siRNA design.

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Databases as Topic
  • Genetic Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Proteome / chemistry
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering* / metabolism
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Proteome
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • RNA