RNA replicons represent potential vaccine delivery vehicles, but are considered too unstable for such use. This study examined the recovery, integrity and function of in vitro transcribed replicon RNA encoding hepatitis C virus (HCV) proteins. To remove residual template DNA, the RNA was digested with TURBO DNase followed by RNeasy DNase set and purified through an RNeasy column. The RNA was freeze-dried in distilled water or trehalose, stored under nitrogen gas for up to 10 months and analyzed at different time points. The recovery of RNA stored at < or = 4 degrees C that was freeze-dried in distilled water varied between 66% to zero of that recovered from RNA freeze-dried in 10% trehalose, a figure that depended on the duration of storage. In contrast, the recovery of the RNA stored in trehalose was consistently high for all time points. After recovery, both RNAs were translationally competent and expressed high levels of proteins after transfection, although the level of expression from the trehalose-stored RNA was consistently higher. Thus the addition of trehalose permitted stable storage of functional RNA at 4 degrees C for up to 10 months and this permits the development of RNA vaccines, even in developing countries where only minimum storage conditions (e.g., 4 degrees C) can be achieved.