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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22727. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022727. Epub 2011 Jul 26.

piR_015520 belongs to Piwi-associated RNAs regulates expression of the human melatonin receptor 1A gene.

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  • 1Institute of Genetics and Biophysics Adriano Buzzati-Traverso, National Research Council of Italy, Naples, Italy. teresa.esposito@igb.cnr.it

Abstract

Piwi-associated RNAs (piRNAs) are a distinct class of 24- to 30-nucleotide-long RNAs produced by a Dicer-independent mechanism, and are associated with Piwi-class Argonaute proteins. In contrast to the several hundred species of microRNAs (miRNAs) identified thus far, piRNAs consist of more than 30,000 different species in humans. Studies in flies, fish and mice implicate these piRNAs in regulating germ line development, the silencing of selfish DNA elements, and maintaining germ line DNA integrity. Most piRNAs map to unique sites in the human genome, including intergenic, intronic, and exonic sequences. However, the role of piRNAs in humans remains to be elucidated. Here, we uncover an unexpected function of the piRNA pathway in humans. We show for the first time, that the piRNA_015520, located in intron 1 of the human Melatonin receptor 1A (MTNR1A) gene, is expressed in adult human tissues (testes and brain) and in the human cell line HEK 293. Although the role of piR_015520 expression in brain tissue remains unknown, the testes-specific expression is consistent with previous findings in several species. Surprisingly, in contrast to the mechanism known for miRNA-mediated modulation of gene expression, piRNA_015520 negatively regulates MTNR1A gene expression by binding to its genomic region. This finding suggests that changes in individual piRNA levels could influence both autoregulatory gene expression and the expression of the gene in which the piRNA is located. These findings offer a new perspective for piRNAs functioning as gene regulators in humans.

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