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RNA interference (RNAi) mediated by small interfering RNA (siRNA) duplexes is a powerful therapeutic modality, but the translation of siRNAs from the bench into clinical application has been hampered by inefficient delivery in vivo. An innovative delivery strategy involves fusing siRNAs to a three-way junction (3WJ) motif derived from the phi29 bacteriophage prohead RNA (pRNA). Chimeric siRNA-3WJ molecules are presumed to enter the RNAi pathway through Dicer cleavage. Here, we fused siRNAs to the phi29 3WJ and two phylogenetically related 3WJs. We confirmed that the siRNA-3WJs are substrates for Dicer in vitro. However, our results reveal that siRNA-3WJs transfected into Dicer-deficient cell lines trigger potent gene silencing. Interestingly, siRNA-3WJs transfected into an Argonaute 2-deficient cell line also retain some gene silencing activity. siRNA-3WJs are most efficient when the antisense strand of the siRNA duplex is positioned 5' of the 3WJ (5'-siRNA-3WJ) relative to 3' of the 3WJ (3'-siRNA-3WJ). This work sheds light on the functional properties of siRNA-3WJs and offers a design rule for maximizing their potency in the human RNAi pathway.

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RNA nanotechnology, packaging RNA, prohead RNA, small interfering RNA, three-way junction, Gene Silencing, Humans, RNA Interference, RNA, Small Interfering