PIWI proteins, a subfamily of the ARGONAUTE/PIWI protein family, have been implicated in transcriptional and posttranscriptional gene regulation and transposon silencing mediated by small non-coding RNAs, especially piRNAs. Although these proteins are known to be required for germline development, their somatic function remains elusive. Here, we examine the maternal function of all three PIWI proteins in Drosophila; Piwi, Aubergine (Aub) and Argonaute3 (Ago3) during early embryogenesis. In syncytial embryos, Piwi displays an embryonic stage-dependent localization pattern. Piwi is localized in the cytoplasm during mitotic cycles 1-10. Between cycles 11 and 14, Piwi remains in the cytoplasm during mitosis but moves into the somatic nucleus during interphase. Beyond cycle 14, it stays in the nucleus. Aub and Ago3 are diffusely cytoplasmic from cycle 1 to 14. Embryos maternally depleted of any one of the three PIWI proteins display severe mitotic defects, including abnormal chromosome and nuclear morphology, cell cycle arrest, asynchronous nuclear division and aberrant nuclear migration. Furthermore, all three PIWI proteins are required for the assembly of mitotic machinery and progression through mitosis. Embryos depleted of maternal PIWI proteins also exhibit chromatin organization abnormalities. These observations indicate that maternal Piwi, Aub and Ago3 play a critical role in the maintenance of chromatin structure and cell cycle progression during early embryogenesis, with compromised chromatin integrity as a possible cause of the observed mitotic defects. Our study demonstrates the essential function of PIWI proteins in the first phase of somatic development.
Keywords: Argonaute 3; Aubergine; Chromosome; Embryonic; Maternal; Mitosis; PIWI.
© 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.