Transgenerational inheritance of an acquired small RNA-based antiviral response in C. elegans

Cell. 2011 Dec 9;147(6):1248-56. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.10.042. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


Induced expression of the Flock House virus in the soma of C. elegans results in the RNAi-dependent production of virus-derived, small-interfering RNAs (viRNAs), which in turn silence the viral genome. We show here that the viRNA-mediated viral silencing effect is transmitted in a non-Mendelian manner to many ensuing generations. We show that the viral silencing agents, viRNAs, are transgenerationally transmitted in a template-independent manner and work in trans to silence viral genomes present in animals that are deficient in producing their own viRNAs. These results provide evidence for the transgenerational inheritance of an acquired trait, induced by the exposure of animals to a specific, biologically relevant physiological challenge. The ability to inherit such extragenic information may provide adaptive benefits to an animal.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / immunology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / virology*
  • Extrachromosomal Inheritance*
  • Genome, Viral
  • Nodaviridae / genetics*
  • Nodaviridae / metabolism
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism*


  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • RNA, Viral

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE33334