UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications


Design of shRNA and miRNA for Delivery to the CNS

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Neurology; Gene Therapy Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience | Molecular Biology | Nervous System Diseases | Neurology


Neurologic diseases tend to target various areas of the central nervous system (CNS) and can therefore result in paralysis, dementia, and death. Neurodegenerative diseases distinguish themselves from other diseases by affecting nerve cells, which unlike many other cells in our body cannot regenerate when severely injured. The discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) has enabled scientist to design new therapeutic approaches based on specific gene silencing rather than the canonical gene therapy through gene augmentation. Two types of molecules can be used for viral vector-mediated gene silencing: short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) and artificial microRNAs (miRNAs) that have the ability to enter the RNAi pathway. Although both shRNAs and miRNAs can be used to silence genes, they enter the RNAi pathway at different points. Unlike shRNAs, miRNAs require an additional cleavage step inside the nucleus before being exported to the cytoplasm. These molecules can then be incorporated into the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) which utilizes sequence complementarity to recognize target mRNAs and activate either translational repression, in the case of partial complementarity, or induce mRNA cleavage in the case of complete complementarity. Elevated amounts of shRNAs, which are commonly driven by strong polymerase III promoters, can cause saturation of the endogenous RNAi machinery due to competition between endogenous and artificial molecules. Switching to a DNA polymerase II promoter is an alternative to reduce shRNA production, thereby reducing toxicity. Even though the molecules are designed to target specific mRNAs there may be off-target effects due to nonspecific binding that must be accounted for during the design process. In this chapter we discuss the design and in vitro screening of shRNAs and artificial miRNAs.


AAV, Knockdown, RNAi, miRNA, shRNA

DOI of Published Version



Methods Mol Biol. 2016;1382:67-80. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-3271-9_5. Link to article on publisher's site

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.)

PubMed ID