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DNA Cell Biol. 2012 Oct;31 Suppl 1:S17-33. doi: 10.1089/dna.2012.1611.

Caenorhabditis elegans small RNA pathways make their mark on chromatin.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Endogenous small-RNA-mediated gene silencing pathways are generally recognized for their functions in halting gene expression by the degradation of a transcript or by translational inhibition. However, another important mode of gene regulation by small RNAs is mediated at the level of chromatin modulation. Over the past decade a great deal of progress on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which small RNAs can influence chromatin has been made for fungi, ciliated protozoans, and plants, while less is known about the functions and consequences of such chromatin-directed small RNA pathways in animals. Several recent studies in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans have provided mechanistic insights into small RNA pathways that impact chromatin throughout development. The "worm" has been instrumental in uncovering the mechanisms of RNA interference and remains a powerful system for dissecting the molecular means by which small RNA pathways impact chromatin in animals. This review summarizes our current knowledge of the various chromatin-directed small RNA pathways in C. elegans and provides insights for future study.

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