Small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs) regulate gene expression in a sequence-specific manner. Genes with partial complementarity to siRNA/miRNA sequences in their 3′-untranslated regions (UTRs) are suppressed by a mechanism referred to as the siRNA off-target effect or miRNA-mediated RNA silencing. However, the determinants of such RNA silencing efficiency are poorly understood. Previously, I and co-workers reported that the efficiency of RNA silencing is strongly correlated with the thermodynamic stability of base pairing in the duplex formed within an siRNA/miRNA and between the seed region and its target mRNA. In this review, I first summarize our previous studies that identified the thermodynamic parameter to estimate the silencing efficiency using the calculated base pairing stability: siRNAs downregulate the expression of off-target genes depending on the stability of binding between the siRNA seed region (nucleotides 2–8) and off-target mRNAs, and miRNAs downregulate target mRNA expression depending on the stability of the duplex formed between the 5′ terminus of the miRNA and its target mRNA. I further discuss the possibility that such thermodynamic features of silencing efficiency may have arisen during evolution with increasing body temperature in various organisms.
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