The epigenetic regulation of transposable elements by PIWI-interacting RNAs in Drosophila

Kuniaki Saito

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


A mechanism is required to repress the expression and transposition of transposable elements (TEs) to ensure the stable inheritance of genomic information. Accumulating evidence indicates that small non-coding RNAs are important regulators of TEs. Among small non-coding RNAs, PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) serve as guide molecules for recognizing and silencing numerous TEs and work in collaboration with PIWI subfamily proteins in gonadal cells. Disruption of the piRNA pathway correlates with loss of proper genomic organization, gene expression control and fertility. Moreover, recent studies on the molecular mechanisms of piRNA biogenesis and on piRNA function have shown that piRNAs act as maternally inherited genic elements, transferring information about repressed TEs to progeny. These findings enable a molecular explanation of mysterious epigenetic phenomena, such as hybrid dysgenesis and TE adaptation with age. Here, I review our current knowledge of piRNAs derived from biochemical and genetic studies and discuss how small RNAs are utilized to maintain genome organization and to provide non-DNA genetic information. I mainly focus on Drosophila but also discuss comparisons with other species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-17
Number of pages9
JournalGenes and Genetic Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Drosophila
  • Hybrid dysgenesis
  • PIWI proteins
  • PiRNAs
  • Transposable elements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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