The design, preparation, and evaluation of asymmetric small interfering RNA for specific gene silencing in mammalian cells

Methods Mol Biol. 2013:942:135-52. doi: 10.1007/978-1-62703-119-6_7.


RNA interference (RNAi) is a highly efficient endogenous gene silencing mechanism mediated by short double-stranded RNAs termed small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). The current standard siRNA structure, which is used by most researchers to trigger sequence-specific target gene silencing, consists of a double strand region of 19 bp with 2 nt 3'-overhangs at both ends. However, in addition to the desired target gene silencing, this conventional siRNA structure also exhibits several unintended effects that constitute obstacles to the use of siRNA in gene function studies and therapeutics development. Here, we provide protocols for designing and preparing an alternative structure for RNAi trigger, termed asymmetric shorter-duplex RNA (asiRNA). The asiRNA structure has a duplex region shorter than 19 bp and has an asymmetric 3'-overhang structure. Importantly, the asiRNA structure not only triggers efficient target gene silencing comparable to that of the 19 bp standard siRNA structure but also significantly reduces nonspecific effects triggered by 19 bp siRNAs such as sense-strand-mediated off-target silencing and the saturation of RNAi machinery. Procedures are described for verifying that asiRNA activates gene silencing through an Ago2-dependent pathway and for assessing the miRNA pathway competition potency and specific and nonspecific silencing abilities of asiRNAs. We propose that asiRNA, an improved RNAi trigger that can overcome the nonspecific effects evoked by standard siRNA structures, can be developed as a precise and effective tool for both functional genomics and therapeutic applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Argonaute Proteins / metabolism
  • Base Sequence
  • Drug Design*
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • RNA Cleavage
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / chemistry*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics*
  • Reverse Transcription
  • Transfection


  • Argonaute Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering