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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2010 Aug;42(8):1334-47. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2010.03.005. Epub 2010 Mar 19.

Small RNAs in the animal gonad: guarding genomes and guiding development.

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Department of Biology, Brandeis University, 415 South Street, Waltham, MA 02454, USA.


Germ cells must safeguard, apportion, package, and deliver their genomes with exquisite precision to ensure proper reproduction and embryonic development. Classical genetic approaches have identified many genes controlling animal germ cell development, but only recently have some of these genes been linked to the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, a gene silencing mechanism centered on small regulatory RNAs. Germ cells contain microRNAs (miRNAs), endogenous siRNAs (endo-siRNAs), and Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs); these are bound by members of the Piwi/Argonaute protein family. piwi genes were known to specify germ cell development, but we now understand that mutations disrupting germline development can also affect small RNA accumulation. Small RNA studies in germ cells have revealed a surprising diversity of regulatory mechanisms and a unifying function for germline genes in controlling the spread of transposable elements. Future challenges will be to understand the production of germline small RNAs and to identify the full breadth of gene regulation by these RNAs. Progress in this area will likely impact biomedical goals of manipulating stem cells and preventing diseases caused by the transposition of mobile DNA elements.

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