RNA-Mediated Epigenetic Programming of Genome Rearrangements

Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2011;12:367-89. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genom-082410-101420.


RNA, normally thought of as a conduit in gene expression, has a novel mode of action in ciliated protozoa. Maternal RNA templates provide both an organizing guide for DNA rearrangements and a template that can transport somatic mutations to the next generation. This opportunity for RNA-mediated genome rearrangement and DNA repair is profound in the ciliate Oxytricha, which deletes 95% of its germline genome during development in a process that severely fragments its chromosomes and then sorts and reorders the hundreds of thousands of pieces remaining. Oxytricha's somatic nuclear genome is therefore an epigenome formed through RNA templates and signals arising from the previous generation. Furthermore, this mechanism of RNA-mediated epigenetic inheritance can function across multiple generations, and the discovery of maternal template RNA molecules has revealed new biological roles for RNA and has hinted at the power of RNA molecules to sculpt genomic information in cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alveolata / cytology
  • Alveolata / genetics*
  • Alveolata / growth & development
  • Epigenomics*
  • Genome, Protozoan*
  • Oxytricha / genetics
  • RNA / metabolism*


  • RNA