RNAi spreading in C. elegans

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Colleges, School and Institutes


The phenomenon of RNA interference (RNAi) occurs in eukaryotic organisms from across the boundaries of taxonomic kingdoms. In all cases, the basic mechanism of RNAi appears to be conserved--an initial trigger [double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) containing perfect homology over at least 19-21/bp with an endogenous gene] is processed into short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules and these siRNAs stimulate degradation of the homologous mRNA. In the vast majority of species, RNAi can only be initiated following the deliberate introduction of dsRNA into a cell by microinjection, electroporation, or transfection. However, in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, RNAi can be simply initiated by supplying dsRNA in the surrounding medium or in the diet. Following uptake, this dsRNA triggers a systemic effect, initiating RNAi against the corresponding target gene in tissues that are not in direct contact with the external milieu. This phenomenon of systemic RNAi, or RNAi spreading, is notably absent from mammalian species, a fact that is likely to prove a substantial barrier to the wider use of RNAi as a clinical therapy. An understanding of the mechanism of systemic RNAi is therefore of considerable importance, and several advances of the last few years have begun to shed light on this process. Here we review our current understanding of systemic RNAi in C. elegans and draw comparisons with systemic RNAi pathways in other organisms.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-315
Number of pages8
JournalMethods in Enzymology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005