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UMass Medical School researchers discover a new role for RNAi
Date:6/26/2012

orresponding piRNA is absent.

"It appears that piRNAs are responsible for the initial scanning and identification of foreign nucleic acids," said Darryl Conte Jr., PhD, research assistant professor of molecular medicine and one of the co-authors on the Cell papers. "Because the foreign DNA in successive generations is being silenced, even in worms that don't have the piRNA, the information necessary for silencing is being passed on epigenetically and independently of the initial scanning done by the piRNA complex in the previous generations."

Originating from clustered regions of the genome, piRNA are diverse and abundant small non-coding RNA molecules in animals, numbering in the millions in mammals. For the most part, piRNAs in worms and many piRNAs in mammalslack obvious complementary targets and their function is not clearly understood. It's possible that piRNAs act as a genetic security system, using imperfect base pairing to help identify foreign nucleic acids, said Dr. Conte.

So what prevents piRNAs from recognizing and permanently silencing a gene that the worm identifies as its own? Remarkably, the authors found that such "self" transcripts are somehow protected from entering the WAGO system and that some active genes can actually turn on silent genes. Because the self transcripts are associated with a third Argonaute known as CSR-1, the authors propose that CSR-1 provides an anti-silencing or protective function, which licenses the expression of genes that the worm recognizes as its own.

"This is one of the truly unique findings of these studies," said Conte. "Before, we knew that the RNAi process could be used to regulate genes or to turn them off completely. In this case, what we see is an RNAi mechanism that appears to prevent a gene from being silenced by the piRNA pathway. It works almost as a form of protection that allows the gene to be expressed."

"Taken together, these studies posit a surprisingly com
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Contact: Jim Fessenden
james.fessenden@umassmed.edu
508-856-2000
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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