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Evolutionarily conserved developmental pathways

Piwi-family members function in a transposon surveillance pathway

Piwi-family proteins have been implicated in transposon control. Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) associated with each Drosophila Piwi protein; Piwi and Aubergine were found to bind RNAs that are predominantly antisense to transposons, whereas Ago3 complexes contain predominantly sense piRNAs. As in mammals, the majority of Drosophila piRNAs are derived from discrete genomic loci. These loci comprise mainly defective transposon sequences, and some have previously been identified as master regulators of transposon activity. These data suggest that heterochromatic piRNA loci interact with potentially active, euchromatic transposons to form an adaptive system for transposon control. Complementary relationships between sense and antisense piRNA populations suggest an amplification loop wherein each piRNA-directed cleavage event generates the 50 end of a new piRNA. Thus, sense piRNAs, formed following cleavage of transposon mRNAs may enhance production of antisense piRNAs, complementary to active elements, by directing cleavage of transcripts from master control loci (Brennecke, 2007).

Nearly half of the mammalian genome is composed of repeated sequences. In Drosophila, Piwi proteins exert control over transposons. However, mammalian Piwi proteins, MIWI and MILI, partner with Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) that are depleted of repeat sequences, which raises questions about a role for mammalian Piwi's in transposon control. A search for murine small RNAs that might program Piwi proteins for transposon suppression revealed developmentally regulated piRNA loci, some of which resemble transposon master control loci of Drosophila. Evidence of an adaptive amplification loop is found in which MILI catalyzes the formation of piRNA 5' ends. Mili mutants derepress LINE-1 (L1) and intracisternal A particle and lose DNA methylation of L1 elements, demonstrating an evolutionarily conserved role for PIWI proteins in transposon suppression (Aravin, 2007).


Aravin, A. A., Sachidanandam, R., Girard, A., Fejes-Toth, K. and Hannon, G. J. (2007). Developmentally regulated piRNA clusters implicate MILI in transposon control. Science 316(5825): 744-7. Medline abstract: 17446352

Brennecke. J., Aravin, A. A., Stark, A., Dus, M., Kellis, M., Sachidanandam, R. and Hannon, G. J. (2007). Discrete small RNA-generating loci as master regulators of transposon activity in Drosophila. Cell 128(6): 1089-103. Medline abstract: 17346786

date revised: 20 November 2007

Developmental Pathways conserved in Evolution

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