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Nucleic Acids Res. 2007;35(16):5430-8. Epub 2007 Aug 15.

Repeat-associated siRNAs cause chromatin silencing of retrotransposons in the Drosophila melanogaster germline.

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Department of Molecular Genetics of Cell, Institute of Molecular Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 123182, Russia.


Silencing of genomic repeats, including transposable elements, in Drosophila melanogaster is mediated by repeat-associated short interfering RNAs (rasiRNAs) interacting with proteins of the Piwi subfamily. rasiRNA-based silencing is thought to be mechanistically distinct from both the RNA interference and microRNA pathways. We show that the amount of rasiRNAs of a wide range of retroelements is drastically reduced in ovaries and testes of flies carrying a mutation in the spn-E gene. To address the mechanism of rasiRNA-dependent silencing of retrotransposons, we monitored their chromatin state in ovaries and somatic tissues. This revealed that the spn-E mutation causes chromatin opening of retroelements in ovaries, resulting in an increase in histone H3 K4 dimethylation and a decrease in histone H3 K9 di/trimethylation. The strongest chromatin changes have been detected for telomeric HeT-A elements that correlates with the most dramatic increase of their transcript level, compared to other mobile elements. The spn-E mutation also causes depletion of HP1 content in the chromatin of transposable elements, especially along HeT-A arrays. We also show that mutations in the genes controlling the rasiRNA pathway cause no derepression of the same retrotransposons in somatic tissues. Our results provide evidence that germinal Piwi-associated short RNAs induce chromatin modifications of their targets.

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