Background: During early vertebrate development, various small non-coding RNAs (sRNAs) such as MicroRNAs (miRNAs) and Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are dynamically expressed for orchestrating the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT). Systematic analysis of expression profiles of zebrafish small RNAome will be greatly helpful for understanding the sRNA regulation during embryonic development.
Results: We first determined the expression profiles of sRNAs during eight distinct stages of early zebrafish development by sRNA-seq technology. Integrative analyses with a new computational platform of CSZ (characterization of small RNAome for zebrafish) demonstrated an sRNA class transition from piRNAs to miRNAs as development proceeds. We observed that both the abundance and diversity of miRNAs are gradually increased, while the abundance is enhanced more dramatically than the diversity during development. However, although both the abundance and diversity of piRNAs are gradually decreased, the diversity was firstly increased then rapidly decreased. To evaluate the computational accuracy, the expression levels of four known miRNAs were experimentally validated. We also predicted 25 potentially novel miRNAs, whereas two candidates were verified by Northern blots.
Conclusions: Taken together, our analyses revealed the piRNA to miRNA transition as a conserved mechanism in zebrafish, although two different types of sRNAs exhibit distinct expression dynamics in abundance and diversity, respectively. Our study not only generated a better understanding for sRNA regulations in early zebrafish development, but also provided a useful platform for analyzing sRNA-seq data. The CSZ was implemented in Perl and freely downloadable at: http://csz.biocuckoo.org.