The Role of RNA Interference in Stem Cell Biology: Beyond the Mutant Phenotypes

J Mol Biol. 2017 May 19;429(10):1532-1543. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 21.


Complex gene regulation systems ensure the maintenance of cellular identity during early development in mammals. Eukaryotic small RNAs have emerged as critical players in RNA interference (RNAi) by mediating gene silencing during embryonic stem cell self-renewal. Most of the proteins involved in the biogenesis of small RNAs are essential for proliferation and differentiation into the three germ layers of mouse embryonic stem cells. In the last decade, new functions for some RNAi proteins, independent of their roles in RNAi pathways, have been demonstrated in different biological systems. In parallel, new concepts in stem cell biology have emerged. Here, we review and integrate the current understanding of how RNAi proteins regulate stem cell identity with the new advances in the stem cell field and the recent non-canonical functions of the RNAi proteins. Finally, we propose a reevaluation of all RNAi mutant phenotypes, as non-canonical (small non-coding RNA independent) functions may contribute to the molecular mechanisms governing mouse embryonic stem cells commitment.

Keywords: RNA interference pathways; exit from pluripotency; mouse embryonic stem cells; non-canonical functions of RNAi proteins.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Mice
  • RNA Interference*