The piwi family genes are highly conserved during evolution and play essential roles in stem cell self-renewal, gametogenesis, and RNA interference in diverse organisms ranging from Arabidopsis to human. Piwil2, known also as Mili gene, is one of three mouse homologues of piwi. Piwil2 was found in germ cells of adult testis, suggesting that this gene functions in spermatogonial stem cell self-renewal. In order to find molecular mechanisms underlying stem cell activity mediated by Piwil2 gene, an in vitro gain of function cell culture model was established. Messenger RNAs isolated from cells expressing Piwil2 and mRNAs isolated from cells without Piwil2 expression were compared using a stem cell array technique. It was shown that Piwil2 modulates expression of stem cell specific genes, including platelet-derived growth factor receptor, beta polypeptide (Pdgfrb), solute carrier family 2 member 1 (Slc2a1), gap junction membrane channel protein alpha 7 (Gja7), and spermatogonial cell surface markers Thy-1 (CD90), integrin alpha 6 (Itga6), CD9, and spermatogonia specific markers heat shock protein 90 alpha (Hsp90a), and stimulated by retinoic acid gene 8 (Stra8). These molecules play essential role in stem cells proliferation (Pdgfrb), energy metabolism (Slc2a1), cell adhesion, cell-cell interaction (Itga6, Gja7, Thy-1, and CD9), and germ cell differentiation (Stra8). The expression of these markers in spermatogonial stem cells and other nongerminal stem cells suggests that these cells share elements of common molecular machinery with stem cells in other tissues which are modulated by stem cell protein Piwil2.
(c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.