Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are gonad-specific small RNAs that provide defense against transposable genetic elements called transposons. Our knowledge of piRNA biogenesis is sketchy, partly due to an incomplete inventory of the factors involved. Here, we identify Tudor domain-containing 12 (TDRD12; also known as ECAT8) as a unique piRNA biogenesis factor in mice. TDRD12 is detected in complexes containing Piwi protein MILI (PIWIL2), its associated primary piRNAs, and TDRD1, all of which are already implicated in secondary piRNA biogenesis. Male mice carrying either a nonsense point mutation (reproductive mutant 23 or repro23 mice) or a targeted deletion in the Tdrd12 locus are infertile and derepress retrotransposons. We find that TDRD12 is dispensable for primary piRNA biogenesis but essential for production of secondary piRNAs that enter Piwi protein MIWI2 (PIWIL4). Cell-culture studies with the insect ortholog of TDRD12 suggest a role for the multidomain protein in mediating complex formation with other participants during secondary piRNA biogenesis.
Keywords: DNA methylation; helicase; spermatogenesis.