RNA interference (RNAi) is a cellular mechanism to inhibit the expression of gene products in a highly specific manner. In recent years, RNAi has become the cornerstone of gene function studies, shortening the otherwise long process of target identification and validation. In addition, small interfering RNA (siRNA) and short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) therapies are being developed for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. Despite its huge potential for gene silencing, a hurdle to safe and effective RNAi is the activation of innate immune responses. Induction of innate immunity is dose- and sequence-dependent, and is also influenced by target tissue and delivery vehicle. Research on the molecular mechanisms mediating this response is helping to improve the design of the RNAi molecules. Nevertheless, appropriate testing for the presence of this undesired effect is needed prior to making conclusions on the outcome of the silencing treatment.