PIWIs, piRNAs and Retrotransposons: Complex battles during reprogramming in gametes and early embryos

Reprod Domest Anim. 2017 Oct:52 Suppl 4:28-38. doi: 10.1111/rda.13053.


Gamete and embryo development are indispensable processes for successful reproduction. Cells involved in these processes acquire pluripotency, the ability to differentiate into multiple different cell types, through a series of events known as reprogramming that lead to profound changes in histone and DNA methylation. While essential for pluripotency, this epigenetic remodelling removes constraints that normally limit the expression of genomic sequences known as transposable elements (TEs). Unconstrained TE expression can lead to many deleterious consequences including infertility, so organisms have evolved complex and potent mechanistic arsenals to target and suppress TE expression during reprogramming. This review will focus on the control of transposable elements in gametes and embryos, and one important TE suppressing system known as the PIWI pathway. This broadly conserved, small RNA-targeted silencing mechanism appears critical for fertility in many species and may participate in multiple aspects of gene regulation in reproduction and other contexts.

Keywords: Small RNA; embryo; gamete; oocyte; post-transcriptional; reprogramming; retrotransposon; testes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Argonaute Proteins*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Germ Cells
  • Mammals
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering*
  • Retroelements / physiology*


  • Argonaute Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Retroelements