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Biochem Cell Biol. 2012 Feb;90(1):70-7. doi: 10.1139/o11-050. Epub 2011 Oct 17.

RNA interference in mammalian DNA methylation.

Author information

  • 1Theme of Genetic Disorders, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Royal Children's Hospital, Parkville 3052, Victoria, Australia. jeff.mann@mcri.edu.au


RNAi and Dicer-dependent siRNAs are required for constitutive heterochromatin formation in fission yeast and for establishing DNA methylation at repetitive elements in plants. In the mammalian male germ line, DICER1-independent piRNAs are required for the full establishment of DNA methylation of dispersed repetitive transposable elements. However, in other mammalian cell types, no clear picture has yet emerged of the role of RNAi in establishing heterochromatin and DNA methylation. In mouse embryonic stem cells, which remain viable on loss of DICER1 and ablation of RNAi, while no firm evidence has been obtained for defective heterochromatin formation, there are indications of defective DNA methylation. The latter has been attributed to an indirect effect of reduced DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) activity due to a loss of miRNA-mediated gene regulation. However, it is unclear whether the reductions in DNMT activity were sufficient to affect DNA methylation. We consider it equally likely that the defects in DNA methylation that can be observed in DICER1-deficient embryonic stem cells are the result of nonspecific effects related to RNAi loss aside from reduced DNMT activity.

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