A single RNA-dependent RNA polymerase assembles with mutually exclusive nucleotidyl transferase subunits to direct different pathways of small RNA biogenesis

RNA. 2009 Jul;15(7):1363-74. doi: 10.1261/rna.1630309. Epub 2009 May 18.


Members of the conserved family of eukaryotic RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (Rdrs) synthesize double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) intermediates in diverse pathways of small RNA (sRNA) biogenesis and RNA-mediated silencing. Rdr-dependent pathways of sRNA production are poorly characterized relative to Rdr-independent pathways, and the Rdr enzymes themselves are poorly characterized relative to their viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase counterparts. We previously described a physical and functional coupling of the Tetrahymena thermophila Rdr, Rdr1, and a Dicer enzyme, Dcr2, in the production of approximately 24-nucleotide (nt) sRNA in vitro. Here we characterize the endogenous complexes that harbor Rdr1, termed RDRCs. Distinct RDRCs assemble to contain Rdr1 and subsets of the total of four tightly Rdr1-associated proteins. Of particular interest are two RDRC subunits, Rdn1 and Rdn2, which possess noncanonical ribonucleotidyl transferase motifs. We show that the two Rdn proteins are uridine-specific polymerases of separate RDRCs. Two additional RDRC subunits, Rdf1 and Rdf2, are present only in RDRCs containing Rdn1. Rdr1 catalytic activity is retained in RDRCs purified from cell extracts lacking any of the nonessential RDRC subunits (Rdn2, Rdf1, Rdf2) or if the RDRC harbors a catalytically inactive Rdn. However, specific disruption of each RDRC imposes distinct loss-of-function consequences at the cellular level and has a differential impact on the accumulation of specific 23-24-nt sRNA sequences in vivo. The biochemical and biological phenotypes of RDRC subunit disruption reveal a previously unanticipated complexity of Rdr-dependent sRNA biogenesis in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatography, Affinity
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleotidyltransferases / chemistry*
  • Nucleotidyltransferases / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Subunits
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / genetics
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / metabolism
  • RNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • RNA, Protozoan / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / biosynthesis*
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / genetics
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / metabolism*
  • Ribonuclease III / genetics
  • Ribonuclease III / metabolism*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / enzymology*
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / genetics


  • Protein Subunits
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • RNA, Double-Stranded
  • RNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Nucleotidyltransferases
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase
  • Ribonuclease III