This decision is based on two key factors – the “transfectability” of the target cells, and the desired duration of the experiment.
siRNA molecules work well for high throughput, transient studies, with cells that are easily transfected. The limitations of using siRNA are two-fold. First of all, they do not work well with a few cell types that are extremely difficult to transfect. In addition, their use is restricted to experiments studying the impact of transient suppression of gene expression.
shRNA are carried within the context of a plasmid or viral-based vector, they can be engineered to carry a reporter gene. A reporter gene provides a straightforward readout, for carrying out transfection optimization studies. In addition, a fluorescent reporter gene (such as GFP) allows the use of fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) to enrich for transfected cells. Alternatively, the vector may carry an antibiotic-resistance gene, which permits the selection of a stably transfected cell population. Another obvious advantage to using a vector-based shRNA construct is that it provides a renewable source of reagent for subsequent RNAi studies.
The key benefit of using viral-based shRNA delivery vectors is that they can efficiently deliver the shRNA into cells that are difficult (or impossible) to transfect. Additionally, viral transduction is a much more efficient process than transfection.