Biogenesis and germline functions of piRNAs

Program in Molecular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01605, USA.
Development (Impact Factor: 6.27). 02/2008; 135(1):3-9. DOI: 10.1242/dev.006486
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Small interfering RNAs and microRNAs are generated from double-stranded RNA precursors by the Dicer endonucleases, and function with Argonaute-family proteins to target transcript destruction or to silence translation. A distinct class of 24- to 30-nucleotide-long RNAs, produced by a Dicer-independent mechanism, associates with Piwi-class Argonaute proteins. Studies in flies, fish and mice implicate these Piwi-associated RNAs (piRNAs) in germline development, silencing of selfish DNA elements, and in maintaining germline DNA integrity. However, whether piRNAs primarily control chromatin organization, gene transcription, RNA stability or RNA translation is not well understood, neither is piRNA biogenesis. Here, we review recent studies of piRNA production and function, and discuss unanswered questions about this intriguing new class of small RNAs.

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