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Fly (Austin). 2013 Oct-Dec;7(4):237-41. doi: 10.4161/fly.26522. Epub 2013 Oct 2.

piRNAs and epigenetic conversion in Drosophila.

Author information

Epigenetic Repression and Mobile DNA; Laboratoire Biologie du Développement; UMR7622; CNRS-Université Pierre et Marie Curie; Paris, France.
Drosophila Genetics and Epigenetics; CNRS URA2578; Institut Pasteur; Paris, France.


Transposable element (TE) activity is repressed in the Drosophila germline by Piwi-Interacting RNAs (piRNAs), a class of small non-coding RNAs. These piRNAs are produced by discrete genomic loci containing TE fragments. In a recent publication, we tested for the existence of a strict epigenetic induction of piRNA production capacity by a locus in the D. melanogaster genome. We used 2 lines carrying a transgenic 7-copy tandem cluster (P-lacZ-white) at the same genomic site. This cluster generates in both lines a local heterochromatic sector. One line (T-1) produces high levels of ovarian piRNAs homologous to the P-lacZ-white transgenes and shows a strong capacity to repress homologous sequences in trans, whereas the other line (BX2) is devoid of both of these capacities. The properties of these 2 lines are perfectly stable over generations. We have shown that the maternal transmission of a cytoplasm carrying piRNAs from the first line can confer to the inert transgenic locus of the second, a totally de novo capacity to produce high levels of piRNAs as well as the ability to induce homology-dependent silencing in trans. These new properties are stably inherited over generations (n>50). Furthermore, the converted locus has itself become able to convert an inert transgenic locus via cytoplasmic maternal inheritance. This results in a stable epigenetic conversion process, which can be performed recurrently--a phenomenon termed paramutation and discovered in Maize 60 y ago. Paramutation in Drosophila corresponds to the first stable paramutation in animals and provides a model system to investigate the epigenetically induced emergence of a piRNA-producing locus, a crucial step in epigenome shaping. In this Extra View, we discuss some additional functional aspects and the possible molecular mechanism of this piRNA-linked paramutation.


cellular memory; epigenetics; heterochromatin; piRNAs; transposable elements

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