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J Genet Genomics. 2013 Apr 20;40(4):153-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jgg.2012.12.007. Epub 2013 Feb 4.

Small RNAs, RNAi and the inheritance of gene silencing in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230027, China.


Invasive nucleic acids such as transposons and viruses usually exhibit aberrant characteristics, e.g., unpaired DNA or abnormal double-stranded RNA. Organisms employ a variety of strategies to defend themselves by distinguishing self and nonself substances and disabling these invasive nucleic acids. Furthermore, they have developed ways to remember this exposure to invaders and transmit the experience to their descendants. The mechanism underlying this inheritance has remained elusive. Recent research has shed light on the initiation and maintenance of RNA-mediated inherited gene silencing. Small regulatory RNAs play a variety of crucial roles in organisms, including gene regulation, developmental timing, antiviral defense, and genome integrity, via a process termed as RNA interference (RNAi). Recent research has revealed that small RNAs and the RNAi machinery are engaged in establishing and promoting transgenerational gene silencing. Small RNAs direct the RNAi and chromatin modification machinery to the cognate nucleic acids to regulate gene expression and epigenetic alterations. Notably, these acquired small RNAs and epigenetic changes persist and are transmitted from parents to offspring for multiple generations. Thus, RNAi is a vital determinant of the inheritance of gene silencing and acts as a driving force of evolution.

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