GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

Alonzo Ross, Ph.D.


RNA Interference, MicroRNAs, RNA-Induced Silencing Complex


Argonaute proteins are the core component of an RNA silencing complex. The human genome encodes four Argonaute paralogs –Ago1, Ago2, Ago3 and Ago4– proteins that are guided to target mRNAs by microRNAs. More than 500 miRNAs are conserved between mammals, and each microRNA can repress hundreds of genes, regulating almost every cellular process. We still do not fully understand the molecular mechanisms by which miRNAs regulate gene expression. Although we understand many aspects of microRNA biogenesis and formation of the RNA-induced silencing complex, much less is known about the subsequent steps leading to target mRNA regulation.

Mammalian microRNAs rarely have complete complementarity to their target mRNAs so, instead of endonucleolytic cleavage by Ago2, microRNAs destabilize or repress translation of target mRNAs. Here I explored the functional limits of Argonaute proteins bound to their targets directly and indirectly through microRNAs in mammalian cells. I revealed the different abilities for Argonaute proteins bound at multiple sites in a target to generate cooperativity in silencing based on the extent of pairing between the microRNA and target mRNA. Further, I harnessed the endogenous microRNA silencing mechanism to repress an mRNA that is not a direct target of the microRNA by tethering the RNA-induced silencing complex to the 3´ UTR of an mRNA. This strategy allows tissue-specific gene silencing due to the limited endogenous expression profile of the recruited microRNA. Efforts made herein further our mechanistic knowledge of microRNA-induced gene silencing in mammalian cells and advance microRNA-based strategies toward treating human disease.



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