RNA interference (RNAi) has become a popular tool for downregulating specific gene expression in many species, including mammalian cells [Novina, C. D., and Sharp, P. A. (2004) The RNAi revolution, Nature 430, 161-164]. Synthetic double-stranded RNA sequences (siRNA) of 21-23 nucleotides have been shown in particular to have the potential to silence specifically gene function in cultured mammalian cells. As a result, there has been a significant surge of interest in the application of siRNA in functional genomics programs as a means of deciphering specific gene function. However, for siRNA functional genomics studies to be valuable and effective, specific silencing of any given target gene is essential, devoid of nonspecific knockdown and toxic side effects. For this reason, we became interested in investigating cationic liposome/lipid-mediated siRNA delivery (siFection) as a meaningful and potentially potent way to facilitate effective functional genomics studies. Accordingly, a number of cationic liposome/lipid-based systems were selected, and their formulation with siRNA was studied, with particular emphasis on formulation parameters most beneficial for siRNA use in functional genomics studies. Cationic liposome/lipid-based systems were selected from a number of commercially available products, including lipofectAMINE2000 and a range of CDAN/DOPE systems formulated from different molar ratios of the cationic cholesterol-based polyamine lipid N(1)-cholesteryloxycarbonyl-3,7-diazanonane-1,9-diamine (CDAN) and the neutral helper lipid dioleoyl-L-alpha-phosphatidylethanolamine (DOPE). Parameters that were been investigated included the lipid:nucleic acid ratio of mixing, the extent of cationic liposome/lipid-nucleic acid complex (lipoplex) formation plus medium used, the lipoplex particle size, the mode of delivery, and dose-response effects. Results suggest that concentrations during siRNA lipoplex (LsiR) formation are crucial for maximum knockdown, but the efficacy of gene silencing is not influenced by the size of LsiR particles. Most significantly, results show that most commercially available cationic liposome/lipid-based systems investigated here mediate a significant nonspecific downregulation of the total cellular protein content at optimal doses for maximal specific gene silencing and knockdown. Furthermore, one pivotal aspect of using siRNA for functional genomics studies is the need for at least minimal cellular toxicity. Results demonstrate that CDAN and DOPE with and without siRNA confer low toxicity to mammalian cells, whereas lipofectAMINE2000 is clearly toxic both as a reagent and after formulation into LsiR particles. Interestingly, LsiR particles formulated from CDAN and DOPE (45:55, m/m; siFECTamine) seem to exhibit a slower cellular uptake than LsiR particles formulated from lipofectAMINE2000. Intracellularly, LsiR particles formulated from CDAN and DOPE systems also appear to behave differently, amassing in distinct but diffuse small nonlysosomal compartments for at least 5 h after siFection. By contrast, LsiR particles formulated from lipofectAMINE2000 accumulate in fewer larger intracellular vesicles.