Short hairpin RNA (shRNA): design, delivery, and assessment of gene knockdown

Methods Mol Biol. 2010:629:141-58. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60761-657-3_10.


Shortly after the cellular mechanism of RNA interference (RNAi) was first described, scientists began using this powerful technique to study gene function. This included designing better methods for the successful delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) into mammalian cells. While the simplest method for RNAi is the cytosolic delivery of siRNA oligonucleotides, this technique is limited to cells capable of transfection and is primarily utilized during transient in vitro studies. The introduction of shRNA into mammalian cells through infection with viral vectors allows for stable integration of shRNA and long-term knockdown of the targeted gene; however, several challenges exist with the implementation of this technology. Here we describe some well-tested protocols which should increase the chances of successful design, delivery, and assessment of gene knockdown by shRNA. We provide suggestions for designing shRNA targets and controls, a protocol for sequencing through the secondary structure of the shRNA hairpin structure, and protocols for packaging and delivery of shRNA lentiviral particles. Using real-time PCR and functional assays we demonstrate the successful knockdown of ASC, an inflammatory adaptor molecule. These studies demonstrate the practicality of including two shRNAs with different efficacies of knockdown to provide an additional level of control and to verify dose dependency of functional effects. Along with the methods described here, as new techniques and algorithms are designed in the future, shRNA is likely to include further promising application and continue to be a critical component of gene discovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Lentivirus / physiology
  • RNA, Small Interfering / chemical synthesis*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Transduction, Genetic
  • Virus Assembly


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • RNA, Small Interfering