RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful tool for the regulation of gene expression. Small exogenous noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) such as siRNA and shRNA are the active silencing agents, intended to target and cleave complementary mRNAs in a specifi c way. They are widely and successfully employed in functional studies, and several ongoing and already completed siRNA-based clinical trials suggest encouraging results in the regulation of overexpressed genes in disease.
Thus, in the past recent years, molecular tools for miRNA silencing, such as antagomiRs and miRNA sponges, have been developed. These molecules have shown their effi cacy in the derepression of genes downregulated by overexpressed miRNAs. In particular, while a single antagomiR is able to inhibit a single complementary miRNA, an artifi cial sponge construct usually contains one or more binding sites for one or more miRNAs and functions by competing with the natural targets of these miRNAs. As a consequence, natural miRNA targets are reexpressed at their physiological level.
siRNAs share many aspects of their biogenesis and function with miRNAs, small ncRNA molecules transcribed from endogenous genes which are able to repress the expression of target mRNAs by either inhibiting their translation or promoting their degradation. Although siRNA and artifi cial miRNA molecules can signifi cantly reduce the expression of overexpressed target genes, cancer and other diseases can also be triggered or sustained by upregulated miRNAs.
In this chapter we review the most successful methods for the computational design of siRNAs, antagomiRs, and miRNA sponges and describe the most popular tools that implement them.
- Gene expression