Indexed on: 08 May '15Published on: 08 May '15Published in: PloS one
Piwi-interacting (pi-) RNAs guide germline-expressed Piwi proteins in order to suppress the activity of transposable elements (TEs). But notably, the majority of pachytene piRNAs in mammalian testes is not related to TEs. This raises the question of whether the Piwi/piRNA pathway exerts functions beyond TE silencing. Although gene-derived piRNAs were described many times, a possible gene-regulatory function was doubted due to the absence of antisense piRNAs. Here we sequenced and analyzed piRNAs expressed in the adult testis of the pig, as this taxon possesses the full set of mammalian Piwi paralogs while their spermatozoa are marked by an extreme fitness due to selective breeding. We provide an exhaustive characterization of porcine piRNAs and genomic piRNA clusters. Moreover, we reveal that both sense and antisense piRNAs derive from protein-coding genes, while exhibiting features that clearly show that they originate from the Piwi/piRNA-mediated post-transcriptional silencing pathway, commonly referred to as ping-pong cycle. We further show that the majority of identified piRNA clusters in the porcine genome spans exonic sequences of protein-coding genes or pseudogenes, which reveals a mechanism by which primary antisense piRNAs directed against mRNA can be generated. Our data provide evidence that spliced mRNAs, derived from such loci, are not only targeted by piRNAs but are also subject to ping-pong cycle processing. Finally, we demonstrate that homologous genes are targeted and processed by piRNAs in pig, mouse and human. Altogether, this strongly suggests a conserved role for the mammalian Piwi/piRNA pathway in post-transcriptional regulation of protein-coding genes, which did not receive much attention so far.