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.
© 2015 Senti et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.