The silent revolution: RNA interference as basic biology, research tool, and therapeutic

Annu Rev Med. 2005:56:401-23. doi: 10.1146/


RNA interference (RNAi) is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for silencing gene expression. In primitive organisms, RNAi protects the genome from viruses and other insertable genetic elements and regulates gene expression during development. The antisense (guide) strand of short double-stranded RNAs is incorporated into an RNA-induced silencing complex that can either suppress protein expression or direct degradation of messenger RNAs that contain homologous sequence(s). The discovery that RNAi works in mammalian cells has sparked intense investigation into its role in normal mammalian cell function, its use as a tool to understand or screen for genes functioning in cellular pathways in healthy and diseased cells and animals, and its potential for therapeutic gene silencing. RNAi may provide an important new therapeutic modality for treating infection, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and other illnesses, although in vivo delivery of small interfering RNAs into cells remains a significant obstacle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Genetic Techniques
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Infections / genetics
  • Infections / therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / therapy
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sequence Homology


  • RNA, Messenger