Indexed on: 28 Jul '17Published on: 28 Jul '17Published in: PLoS genetics
Mammalian genomes harbor millions of retrotransposon copies, some of which are transpositionally active. In mouse prospermatogonia, PIWI-interacting small RNAs (piRNAs) combat retrotransposon activity to maintain the genomic integrity. The piRNA system destroys retrotransposon-derived RNAs and guides de novo DNA methylation at some retrotransposon promoters. However, it remains unclear whether DNA methylation contributes to retrotransposon silencing in prospermatogonia. We have performed comprehensive studies of DNA methylation and polyA(+) RNAs (transcriptome) in developing male germ cells from Pld6/Mitopld and Dnmt3l knockout mice, which are defective in piRNA biogenesis and de novo DNA methylation, respectively. The Dnmt3l mutation greatly reduced DNA methylation levels at most retrotransposons, but its impact on their RNA abundance was limited in prospermatogonia. In Pld6 mutant germ cells, although only a few retrotransposons exhibited reduced DNA methylation, many showed increased expression at the RNA level. More detailed analysis of RNA sequencing, nascent RNA quantification, profiling of cleaved RNA ends, and the results obtained from double knockout mice suggest that PLD6 works mainly at the posttranscriptional level. The increase in retrotransposon expression was larger in Pld6 mutants than it was in Dnmt3l mutants, suggesting that RNA degradation by the piRNA system plays a more important role than does DNA methylation in prospermatogonia. However, DNA methylation had a long-term effect: hypomethylation caused by the Pld6 or Dnmt3l mutation resulted in increased retrotransposon expression in meiotic spermatocytes. Thus, posttranscriptional silencing plays an important role in the early stage of germ cell development, then transcriptional silencing becomes important in later stages. In addition, intergenic and intronic retrotransposon sequences, in particular those containing the antisense L1 promoters, drove ectopic expression of nearby genes in both mutant spermatocytes, suggesting that retrotransposon silencing is important for the maintenance of not only genomic integrity but also transcriptomic integrity.