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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

The dynamics and efficacy of antiviral RNA silencing: A model study

Marian AC Groenenboom* and Paulien Hogeweg

Author Affiliations

Theoretical Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Utrecht, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Systems Biology 2008, 2:28  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-2-28

Published: 26 March 2008



Mathematical modeling is important to provide insight in the complicated pathway of RNA silencing. RNA silencing is an RNA based mechanism that is widely used by eukaryotes to fight viruses, and to control gene expression.


We here present the first mathematical model that combines viral growth with RNA silencing. The model involves a plus-strand RNA virus that replicates through a double-strand RNA intermediate. The model of the RNA silencing pathway consists of cleavage of viral RNA into siRNA by Dicer, target cleavage of viral RNA via the RISC complex, and a secondary response. We found that, depending on the strength of the silencing response, different viral growth patterns can occur. Silencing can decrease viral growth, cause oscillations, or clear the virus completely. Our model can explain various observed phenomena, even when they seem contradictory at first: the diverse responses to the removal of RNA dependent RNA polymerase; different viral growth curves; and the great diversity in observed siRNA ratios.


The model presented here is an important step in the understanding of the natural functioning of RNA silencing in viral infections.