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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Nov 15;108(46):18760-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1106676108. Epub 2011 Nov 7.

Separation of stem cell maintenance and transposon silencing functions of Piwi protein.

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


Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) and Piwi proteins have the evolutionarily conserved function of silencing of repetitive genetic elements in germ lines. The founder of the Piwi subfamily, Drosophila nuclear Piwi protein, was also shown to be required for the maintenance of germ-line stem cells (GSCs). Hence, null mutant piwi females exhibit two types of abnormalities, overexpression of transposons and severely underdeveloped ovaries. It remained unknown whether the failure of GSC maintenance is related to transposon derepression or if GSC self-renewal and piRNA silencing are two distinct functions of the Piwi protein. We have revealed a mutation, piwi(Nt), removing the nuclear localization signal of the Piwi protein. piwi(Nt) females retain the ability of GSC self-renewal and a near-normal number of egg chambers in the ovarioles but display a drastic transposable element derepression and nuclear accumulation of their transcripts in the germ line. piwi(Nt) mutants are sterile most likely because of the disturbance of piRNA-mediated transposon silencing. Analysis of chromatin modifications in the piwi(Nt) ovaries indicated that Piwi causes chromatin silencing only of certain types of transposons, whereas others are repressed in the nuclei without their chromatin modification. Thus, Piwi nuclear localization that is required for its silencing function is not essential for the maintenance of GSCs. We suggest that the Piwi function in GSC self-renewal is independent of transposon repression and is normally realized in the cytoplasm of GSC niche cells.

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