DNA vector-based RNA interference to study gene function in cancer.
RNA interference (RNAi) inhibits gene expression by specifically degrading target mRNAs. Since the discovery of double-stranded small interference RNA (siRNA) in gene silencing, RNAi has become a powerful research tool in gene function studies. Compared to genetic deletion, RNAi-mediated gene silencing possesses many advantages, such as the ease with which it is carried out and its suitability to most cell lines. Multiple studies have demonstrated the applications of RNAi technology in cancer research. In particular, the development of the DNA vector-based technology to produce small hairpin RNA (shRNA) driven by the U6 or H1 promoter has made long term and inducible gene silencing possible. Its use in combination with genetically engineered viral vectors, such as lentivirus, facilitates high efficiencies of shRNA delivery and/or integration into genomic DNA for stable shRNA expression. We describe a detailed procedure using the DNA vector-based RNAi technology to determine gene function, including construction of lentiviral vectors expressing shRNA, lentivirus production and cell infection, and functional studies using a mouse xenograft model. Various strategies have been reported in generating shRNA constructs. The protocol described here employing PCR amplification and a 3-fragment ligation can be used to directly and efficiently generate shRNA-containing lentiviral constructs without leaving any extra nucleotide adjacent to a shRNA coding sequence. Since the shRNA-expression cassettes created by this strategy can be cut out by restriction enzymes, they can be easily moved to other vectors with different fluorescent or antibiotic markers. Most commercial transfection reagents can be used in lentivirus production. However, in this report, we provide an economic method using calcium phosphate precipitation that can achieve over 90% transfection efficiency in 293T cells. Compared to constitutive shRNA expression vectors, an inducible shRNA system is particularly suitable to knocking down a gene essential to cell proliferation. We demonstrate the gene silencing of Yin Yang 1 (YY1), a potential oncogene in breast cancer, by a Tet-On inducible shRNA system and its effects on tumor formation. Research using lentivirus requires review and approval of a biosafety protocol by the Biosafety Committee of a researcher's institution. Research using animal models requires review and approval of an animal protocol by the Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) of a researcher's institution.