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Curr Biol. 2007 Dec 4;17(23):2013-22. Epub 2007 Nov 20.

A whole-genome RNAi Screen for C. elegans miRNA pathway genes.

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Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Richard B. Simches Research Building, 185 Cambridge Street, CPZN-7250, Boston, Massachusetts 02114-2790, USA.



miRNAs are an abundant class of small, endogenous regulatory RNAs. Although it is now appreciated that miRNAs are involved in a broad range of biological processes, relatively little is known about the actual mechanism by which miRNAs downregulate target gene expression. An exploration of which protein cofactors are necessary for a miRNA to downregulate a target gene should reveal more fully the molecular mechanisms by which miRNAs are processed, trafficked, and regulate their target genes.


A weak allele of the C. elegans miRNA gene let-7 was used as a sensitized genetic background for a whole-genome RNAi screen to detect miRNA pathway genes, and 213 candidate miRNA pathway genes were identified. About 2/3 of the 61 candidates with the strongest phenotype were validated through genetic tests examining the dependence of the let-7 phenotype on target genes known to function in the let-7 pathway. Biochemical tests for let-7 miRNA production place the function of nearly all of these new miRNA pathway genes downstream of let-7 expression and processing. By monitoring the downregulation of the protein product of the lin-14 mRNA, which is the target of the lin-4 miRNA, we have identified 19 general miRNA pathway genes.


The 213 candidate miRNA pathway genes identified could act at steps that produce and traffic miRNAs or in downstream steps that detect miRNA::mRNA duplexes to regulate mRNA translation. The 19 validated general miRNA pathway genes are good candidates for genes that may define protein cofactors for sorting or targeting miRNA::mRNA duplexes, or for recognizing the miRNA base-paired to the target mRNA to downregulate translation.

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