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Nat Genet. 2007 Mar;39(3):380-5. Epub 2007 Jan 28.

DGCR8 is essential for microRNA biogenesis and silencing of embryonic stem cell self-renewal.

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Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program, Department of Urology, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.


The molecular controls that govern the differentiation of embryonic stem (ES) cells remain poorly understood. DGCR8 is an RNA-binding protein that assists the RNase III enzyme Drosha in the processing of microRNAs (miRNAs), a subclass of small RNAs. Here we study the role of miRNAs in ES cell differentiation by generating a Dgcr8 knockout model. Analysis of mouse knockout ES cells shows that DGCR8 is essential for biogenesis of miRNAs. On the induction of differentiation, DGCR8-deficient ES cells do not fully downregulate pluripotency markers and retain the ability to produce ES cell colonies; however, they do express some markers of differentiation. This phenotype differs from that reported for Dicer1 knockout cells, suggesting that Dicer has miRNA-independent roles in ES cell function. Our findings indicate that miRNAs function in the silencing of ES cell self-renewal that normally occurs with the induction of differentiation.

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