An epigenetic role for maternally inherited piRNAs in transposon silencing

Science. 2008 Nov 28;322(5906):1387-92. doi: 10.1126/science.1165171.


In plants and mammals, small RNAs indirectly mediate epigenetic inheritance by specifying cytosine methylation. We found that small RNAs themselves serve as vectors for epigenetic information. Crosses between Drosophila strains that differ in the presence of a particular transposon can produce sterile progeny, a phenomenon called hybrid dysgenesis. This phenotype manifests itself only if the transposon is paternally inherited, suggesting maternal transmission of a factor that maintains fertility. In both P- and I-element-mediated hybrid dysgenesis models, daughters show a markedly different content of Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) targeting each element, depending on their parents of origin. Such differences persist from fertilization through adulthood. This indicates that maternally deposited piRNAs are important for mounting an effective silencing response and that a lack of maternal piRNA inheritance underlies hybrid dysgenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Argonaute Proteins
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / embryology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Male
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Peptide Initiation Factors / genetics
  • Peptide Initiation Factors / metabolism
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism


  • AGO3 protein, Drosophila
  • Argonaute Proteins
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Peptide Initiation Factors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • aub protein, Drosophila

Associated data

  • GEO/GSM327620
  • GEO/GSM327621
  • GEO/GSM327622
  • GEO/GSM327623
  • GEO/GSM327624
  • GEO/GSM327625
  • GEO/GSM327626
  • GEO/GSM327627
  • GEO/GSM327628
  • GEO/GSM327629
  • GEO/GSM327630
  • GEO/GSM327631
  • GEO/GSM327632
  • GEO/GSM327633
  • GEO/GSM327634