B Czech, M Munafò, F Ciabrelli, EL Eastwood, MH Fabry, E Kneuss, GJ Hannon
Annu Rev Genet
PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) and their associated PIWI clade Argonaute proteins constitute the core of the piRNA pathway. In gonadal cells, this conserved pathway is crucial for genome defense, and its main function is to silence transposable elements. This is achieved through posttranscriptional and transcriptional gene silencing. Precursors that give rise to piRNAs require specialized transcription and transport machineries because piRNA biogenesis is a cytoplasmic process. The ping-pong cycle, a posttranscriptional silencing mechanism, combines the cleavage-dependent silencing of transposon RNAs with piRNA production. PIWI proteins also function in the nucleus, where they scan for nascent target transcripts with sequence complementarity, instructing transcriptional silencing and deposition of repressive chromatin marks at transposon loci. Although studies have revealed numerous factors that participate in each branch of the piRNA pathway, the precise molecular roles of these factors often remain unclear. In this review, we summarize our current understanding of the mechanisms involved in piRNA biogenesis and function.