piRNA-guided slicing of transposon transcripts enforces their transcriptional silencing via specifying the nuclear piRNA repertoire

Genes Dev. 2015 Aug 15;29(16):1747-62. doi: 10.1101/gad.267252.115.


PIWI clade Argonaute proteins silence transposon expression in animal gonads. Their target specificity is defined by bound ∼23- to 30-nucleotide (nt) PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) that are processed from single-stranded precursor transcripts via two distinct pathways. Primary piRNAs are defined by the endonuclease Zucchini, while biogenesis of secondary piRNAs depends on piRNA-guided transcript cleavage and results in piRNA amplification. Here, we analyze the interdependencies between these piRNA biogenesis pathways in developing Drosophila ovaries. We show that secondary piRNA-guided target slicing is the predominant mechanism that specifies transcripts—including those from piRNA clusters—as primary piRNA precursors and defines the spectrum of Piwi-bound piRNAs in germline cells. Post-transcriptional silencing in the cytoplasm therefore enforces nuclear transcriptional target silencing, which ensures the tight suppression of transposons during oogenesis. As target slicing also defines the nuclear piRNA pool during mouse spermatogenesis, our findings uncover an unexpected conceptual similarity between the mouse and fly piRNA pathways.

Keywords: Drosophila oogenesis; Piwi pathway; piRNA biogenesis; transposon silencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Argonaute Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Peptide Initiation Factors / metabolism
  • RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional
  • RNA, Small Interfering / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*


  • AGO3 protein, Drosophila
  • Argonaute Proteins
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Peptide Initiation Factors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • aub protein, Drosophila

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE71775