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J Cell Sci. 2018 Mar 1;131(5). pii: jcs201996. doi: 10.1242/jcs.201996.

RNA tales - how embryos read and discard messages from mom.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
Department of Pharmacology, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY 10065, USA.
Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA


Following fertilization, embryos develop for a substantial amount of time with a transcriptionally silent genome. Thus, early development is maternally programmed, as it solely relies on RNAs and proteins that are provided by the female gamete. However, these maternal instructions are not sufficient to support later steps of embryogenesis and are therefore gradually replaced by novel products synthesized from the zygotic genome. This switch in the origin of molecular players that drive early development is known as the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT). MZT is a universal phenomenon among all metazoans and comprises two interconnected processes: maternal mRNA degradation and the transcriptional awakening of the zygotic genome. The recent adaptation of high-throughput methods for use in embryos has deepened our knowledge of the molecular principles underlying MZT. These mechanisms comprise conserved strategies for RNA regulation that operate in many well-studied cellular contexts but that have adapted differently to early development. In this Review, we will discuss advances in our understanding of post-transcriptional regulatory pathways that drive maternal mRNA clearance during MZT, with an emphasis on recent data in zebrafish embryos on codon-mediated mRNA decay, the contributions of microRNAs (miRNAs) and RNA-binding proteins to this process, and the roles of RNA modifications in the stability control of maternal mRNAs.


Codon optimality; Maternal-to-zygotic transition; MicroRNAs; N6-methyladenosine; Poly(A) tail; RNA-binding proteins

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