Down-modulation of target molecules in tumor cells by small interfering (si) RNAs is a promising anti-cancer strategy. A major challenge of this approach is the loss of silencing activity of the siRNAs in vivo. Our study aimed at investigating the influence of the serum compartment on the anti-tumor activity of siRNA directed against Polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1), a mitosis-associated serine/threonine kinase. The data showed that siRNA-induced suppression of Plk1 expression effectively reduced the viable cell mass and increased apoptosis in several cancer cell lines. Preincubation of the siRNA in human serum led to shortening of the siRNA as well as loss of its Plk1 silencing and anti-tumor activity. This loss of activity was prevented by inhibition of RNAse A-like enzymes. These data indicate that the anti-neoplastic effect of siRNAs declines upon incubation in human serum. This loss of anti-neoplastic activity can be prevented by inhibition of their degradation by RNAse A-like enzymes. This may have important implications for the development of a human therapeutic application of siRNAs. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.