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RNA. 2012 May;18(5):945-57. doi: 10.1261/rna.032938.112. Epub 2012 Mar 29.

Functional parameters of Dicer-independent microRNA biogenesis.

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Department of Developmental Biology, Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York, New York 10065, USA.


Until recently, a Dicer-class RNase III enzyme was believed to be essential for microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis in all animals. The conserved vertebrate locus mir-451 defies this expectation and instead matures by direct cleavage of its pre-miRNA hairpin via the Slicer activity of Argonaute2 (Ago2). In this study, we used structure-function analysis to define the functional parameters of Ago2-mediated miRNA biogenesis. These include (1) the requirement for base-pairing at most, but not all, positions within the pre-mir-451 stem; (2) surprisingly little influence of the 5'-nucleotide on Ago sorting; (3) substantial influence of Ago protein stoichiometry on mir-451 maturation; (4) strong influence of G:C content in the distal stem on 3' resection of cleaved mir-451 substrates; and (5) the influence of hairpin length on substrate utilization by Ago2 and Dicer. Unexpectedly, we find that certain hairpin lengths confer competence to mature via both Dicer-mediated and Ago2-mediated pathways, and we show, in fact, that a conventional shRNA can traverse the Dicer-independent pathway. Altogether, these data inform the design of effective Dicer-independent substrates for gene silencing and reveal novel aspects of substrate handling by Ago proteins.

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