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RNA. 2011 Jul;17(7):1191-203. doi: 10.1261/rna.2648411. Epub 2011 May 20.

piRNA profiling during specific stages of mouse spermatogenesis.

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State Key Laboratory of Reproductive Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100080, China.


PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are a class of small RNAs abundantly expressed in animal gonads. piRNAs that map to retrotransposons are generated by a "ping-pong" amplification loop to suppress the activity of retrotransposons. However, the biogenesis and function of other categories of piRNAs have yet to be investigated. In this study, we first profiled the expression of small RNAs in type A spermatogonia, pachytene spermatocytes, and round spermatids by deep sequencing. We then focused on the computational analysis of the potential piRNAs generated in the present study as well as other published sets. piRNAs mapping to retrotransposons, mRNAs, and intergenic regions had different length distributions and were differentially regulated in spermatogenesis. piRNA-generating mRNAs (PRMRs), whose expression positively correlated with their piRNA products, constituted one-third of the protein-coding genes and were evolutionarily conserved and enriched with splicing isoforms and antisense transcripts. PRMRs with piRNAs preferentially mapped to CDSs and 3' UTRs partitioned into three clusters differentially expressed during spermatogenesis and enriched with unique sets of functional annotation terms related to housekeeping activities as well as spermatogenesis-specific processes. Intergenic piRNAs were divided into 2992 clusters probably representing novel transcriptional units that have not been reported. The transcripts of a large number of genes involved in spermatogenesis are the precursors of piRNAs, and these genes are intricately regulated by alternative splicing and antisense transcripts. piRNAs, whose regulatory role in gene expression awaits to be identified, are clearly products of a novel regulatory process that needs to be defined.

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