PP Das, MP Bagijn, LD Goldstein, JR Woolford, NJ Lehrbach, A Sapetschnig, HR Buhecha, MJ Gilchrist, KL Howe, R Stark, N Matthews, E Berezikov, RF Ketting, S Tavaré, EA Miska
The Piwi proteins of the Argonaute superfamily are required for normal germline development in Drosophila, zebrafish, and mice and associate with 24-30 nucleotide RNAs termed piRNAs. We identify a class of 21 nucleotide RNAs, previously named 21U-RNAs, as the piRNAs of C. elegans. Piwi and piRNA expression is restricted to the male and female germline and independent of many proteins in other small-RNA pathways, including DCR-1. We show that Piwi is specifically required to silence Tc3, but not other Tc/mariner DNA transposons. Tc3 excision rates in the germline are increased at least 100-fold in piwi mutants as compared to wild-type. We find no evidence for a Ping-Pong model for piRNA amplification in C. elegans. Instead, we demonstrate that Piwi acts upstream of an endogenous siRNA pathway in Tc3 silencing. These data might suggest a link between piRNA and siRNA function.