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1.  The ERI-6/7 Helicase Acts at the First Stage of an siRNA Amplification Pathway That Targets Recent Gene Duplications 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(11):e1002369.
Endogenous small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are a class of naturally occuring regulatory RNAs found in fungi, plants, and animals. Some endogenous siRNAs are required to silence transposons or function in chromosome segregation; however, the specific roles of most endogenous siRNAs are unclear. The helicase gene eri-6/7 was identified in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans by the enhanced response to exogenous double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) of the null mutant. eri-6/7 encodes a helicase homologous to small RNA factors Armitage in Drosophila, SDE3 in Arabidopsis, and Mov10 in humans. Here we show that eri-6/7 mutations cause the loss of 26-nucleotide (nt) endogenous siRNAs derived from genes and pseudogenes in oocytes and embryos, as well as deficiencies in somatic 22-nucleotide secondary siRNAs corresponding to the same loci. About 80 genes are eri-6/7 targets that generate the embryonic endogenous siRNAs that silence the corresponding mRNAs. These 80 genes share extensive nucleotide sequence homology and are poorly conserved, suggesting a role for these endogenous siRNAs in silencing of and thereby directing the fate of recently acquired, duplicated genes. Unlike most endogenous siRNAs in C. elegans, eri-6/7–dependent siRNAs require Dicer. We identify that the eri-6/7–dependent siRNAs have a passenger strand that is ∼19 nt and is inset by ∼3–4 nts from both ends of the 26 nt guide siRNA, suggesting non-canonical Dicer processing. Mutations in the Argonaute ERGO-1, which associates with eri-6/7–dependent 26 nt siRNAs, cause passenger strand stabilization, indicating that ERGO-1 is required to separate the siRNA duplex, presumably through endonucleolytic cleavage of the passenger strand. Thus, like several other siRNA–associated Argonautes with a conserved RNaseH motif, ERGO-1 appears to be required for siRNA maturation.
Author Summary
Endogenous small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are a class of small RNAs present in fungi, plants, and animals. Small RNAs, including microRNAs, are known to regulate the expression levels of genes, silence invading elements such as transposons, and act in cell division. However, the function of many endogenous siRNAs is unknown. We have found that the ERI-6/7 helicase is required for a subset of endogenous siRNAs present in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The ERI-6/7 helicase acts in a pathway together with the Argonaute protein ERGO-1 to produce two types of siRNAs: a primary class of 26 nucleotides in length present in oocytes and embryos, and a class of 22 nucleotide siRNAs present in later stages of development. These siRNAs correspond to only about one hundred genes. Interestingly, we found that these genes fall into groups of genes that contain nearly identical DNA sequences. The sequences of these genes are not conserved in other organisms, not even in related nematodes. These results point to a potential function of these endogenous siRNAs: silencing of recently acquired, duplicated genes. Our work demonstrates a new role of small RNAs, different from known functions in transposon silencing and regulation of gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3213143  PMID: 22102828
2.  Sequence-dependent base pair stepping dynamics in XPD helicase unwinding 
eLife  2013;2:e00334.
Helicases couple the chemical energy of ATP hydrolysis to directional translocation along nucleic acids and transient duplex separation. Understanding helicase mechanism requires that the basic physicochemical process of base pair separation be understood. This necessitates monitoring helicase activity directly, at high spatio-temporal resolution. Using optical tweezers with single base pair (bp) resolution, we analyzed DNA unwinding by XPD helicase, a Superfamily 2 (SF2) DNA helicase involved in DNA repair and transcription initiation. We show that monomeric XPD unwinds duplex DNA in 1-bp steps, yet exhibits frequent backsteps and undergoes conformational transitions manifested in 5-bp backward and forward steps. Quantifying the sequence dependence of XPD stepping dynamics with near base pair resolution, we provide the strongest and most direct evidence thus far that forward, single-base pair stepping of a helicase utilizes the spontaneous opening of the duplex. The proposed unwinding mechanism may be a universal feature of DNA helicases that move along DNA phosphodiester backbones.
eLife digest
During many cellular processes, the double helix must be transiently unwound so that the enzymes responsible for maintaining the genome can access the two strands. During DNA synthesis, for instance, the two strands of DNA are first separated and then used as templates for the production of new strands. The role of destabilizing, separating and unwinding the double helix falls to enzymes known as DNA helicases.
Helicases are also involved in separating strands of nucleic acids during myriad other cellular processes, including DNA repair, transcription and translation. While the functions of helicases are clear, the precise mechanisms by which they unwind DNA are not.
Here, Qi et al. have investigated the mechanism of a helicase called XPD, which is involved in DNA repair and the initiation of transcription of DNA into RNA. Using optical tweezers—in which a laser beam is used to exert extremely small forces on a single DNA molecule—they followed the activity of individual molecules of XPD as they unwound DNA with base pair resolution.
Qi et al. observed that the helicase unwinds DNA strands 1 base pair at a time, but that it sometimes moves backwards by 1 base pair and at other times makes 5 base pair backward and forward steps. The frequency of these backwards steps depends on the availability of ATP, and the sequence of the DNA. Due to the high resolution of the data, Qi et al. were able to correlate these stepping dynamics with the DNA sequence with base pair level accuracy. While some helicases actively separate the strands, using energy derived from ATP to break the hydrogen bonds between pairs of bases, Qi et al. showed that XPD appears to take advantage of momentary separations that arise spontaneously between base pairs.
As well as providing insights into the role of XPD in DNA repair and transcription, the work of Qi et al. presents a method that could be used to explore the mechanisms of other helicases. Given that the unwinding mechanism described here is likely to be a universal feature of enzymes related to XPD, the current work could shed light on a number of other cellular processes involving XPD-like helicases, such as homologous DNA recombination, inter-strand cross-link repair, and accurate chromosome segregation.
PMCID: PMC3668415  PMID: 23741615
helicase; Xeroderma pigmentosum group D helicase; molecular motor; DNA repair; optical tweezers; single molecule; None
3.  The Expanding Functions of Cellular Helicases: The Tombusvirus RNA Replication Enhancer Co-opts the Plant eIF4AIII-Like AtRH2 and the DDX5-Like AtRH5 DEAD-Box RNA Helicases to Promote Viral Asymmetric RNA Replication 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(4):e1004051.
Replication of plus-strand RNA viruses depends on recruited host factors that aid several critical steps during replication. Several of the co-opted host factors bind to the viral RNA, which plays multiple roles, including mRNA function, as an assembly platform for the viral replicase (VRC), template for RNA synthesis, and encapsidation during infection. It is likely that remodeling of the viral RNAs and RNA-protein complexes during the switch from one step to another requires RNA helicases. In this paper, we have discovered a second group of cellular RNA helicases, including the eIF4AIII-like yeast Fal1p and the DDX5-like Dbp3p and the orthologous plant AtRH2 and AtRH5 DEAD box helicases, which are co-opted by tombusviruses. Unlike the previously characterized DDX3-like AtRH20/Ded1p helicases that bind to the 3′ terminal promoter region in the viral minus-strand (−)RNA, the other class of eIF4AIII-like RNA helicases bind to a different cis-acting element, namely the 5′ proximal RIII(−) replication enhancer (REN) element in the TBSV (−)RNA. We show that the binding of AtRH2 and AtRH5 helicases to the TBSV (−)RNA could unwind the dsRNA structure within the RIII(−) REN. This unique characteristic allows the eIF4AIII-like helicases to perform novel pro-viral functions involving the RIII(−) REN in stimulation of plus-strand (+)RNA synthesis. We also show that AtRH2 and AtRH5 helicases are components of the tombusvirus VRCs based on co-purification experiments. We propose that eIF4AIII-like helicases destabilize dsRNA replication intermediate within the RIII(−) REN that promotes bringing the 5′ and 3′ terminal (−)RNA sequences in close vicinity via long-range RNA-RNA base pairing. This newly formed RNA structure promoted by eIF4AIII helicase together with AtRH20 helicase might facilitate the recycling of the viral replicases for multiple rounds of (+)-strand synthesis, thus resulting in asymmetrical viral replication.
Author Summary
Genome-wide screens for host factors affecting tombusvirus replication in yeast indicated that subverted cellular RNA helicases likely play major roles in virus replication. Tombusviruses do not code for their own helicases and they might recruit host RNA helicases to aid their replication in infected cells. Accordingly, in this paper, the authors show that the yeast eIF4AIII-like Fal1p and Dbp3p and the orthologous plant AtRH2 and AtRH5 DEAD-box helicases are co-opted by Tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV) to aid viral replication. The authors find that eIF4AIII-like helicases bind to the replication enhancer element (REN) in the viral (−)RNA and they promote (+)-strand TBSV RNA synthesis in vitro. Data show that eIF4AIII-like helicases are present in the viral replicase complex and they bind to the replication proteins. In addition, the authors show synergistic effect between eIF4AIII-like helicases and the previously identified DDX3-like Ded1p/AtRH20 DEAD box helicases, which bind to a different cis-acting region in the viral (−)RNA, on stimulation of plus-strand synthesis. In summary, the authors find that two different groups of cellular helicases promote TBSV replication via selectively enhancing (+)-strand synthesis through different mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3990711  PMID: 24743583
4.  An RIG-I-Like RNA Helicase Mediates Antiviral RNAi Downstream of Viral siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000286.
Dicer ribonucleases of plants and invertebrate animals including Caenorhabditis elegans recognize and process a viral RNA trigger into virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to guide specific viral immunity by Argonaute-dependent RNA interference (RNAi). C. elegans also encodes three Dicer-related helicase (drh) genes closely related to the RIG-I-like RNA helicase receptors which initiate broad-spectrum innate immunity against RNA viruses in mammals. Here we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain that expressed intense green fluorescence from a chromosomally integrated flock house virus replicon only after knockdown or knockout of a gene required for antiviral RNAi. Use of the reporter nematode strain in a feeding RNAi screen identified drh-1 as an essential component of the antiviral RNAi pathway. However, RNAi induced by either exogenous dsRNA or the viral replicon was enhanced in drh-2 mutant nematodes, whereas exogenous RNAi was essentially unaltered in drh-1 mutant nematodes, indicating that exogenous and antiviral RNAi pathways are genetically distinct. Genetic epistatic analysis shows that drh-1 acts downstream of virus sensing and viral siRNA biogenesis to mediate specific antiviral RNAi. Notably, we found that two members of the substantially expanded subfamily of Argonautes specific to C. elegans control parallel antiviral RNAi pathways. These findings demonstrate both conserved and unique strategies of C. elegans in antiviral defense.
Author Summary
The genome of Caenorhabditis elegans encodes three Dicer-related helicases (DRHs) highly homologous to the DExD/H box helicase domain found in two distinct families of virus sensors, Dicer ribonucleases and RIG-I-like helicases (RLRs). Dicer initiates the specific, RNAi-mediated viral immunity in plants, fungi and invertebrates by producing virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). By contrast, mammalian RLRs trigger interferon production and broad-spectrum viral immunity, although one of the three RLRs may act as both a negative and positive regulator of viral immunity. In this study we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain for high-throughput genetic screens and identified 35 genes including drh-1 that are required for RNAi-mediated viral immunity. Genetic epistatic analyses demonstrate that drh-1 mediates RNAi immunity downstream of the production of viral siRNAs. Notably, we found that drh-2 functions as a negative regulator of the viral immunity. Thus, both nematode DRHs and mammalian RLRs participate in antiviral immune responses. Unlike mammalian RLRs, however, nematode DRH-1 employs an RNAi effector mechanism and is unlikely to be involved in direct virus sensing.
PMCID: PMC2629121  PMID: 19197349
5.  The miR-35-41 Family of MicroRNAs Regulates RNAi Sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002536.
RNA interference (RNAi) utilizes small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to direct silencing of specific genes through transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. The siRNA guides can originate from exogenous (exo–RNAi) or natural endogenous (endo–RNAi) sources of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). In Caenorhabditis elegans, inactivation of genes that function in the endo–RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing of genes targeted by siRNAs from exogenous sources, indicating cross-regulation between the pathways. Here we show that members of another small RNA pathway, the mir-35-41 cluster of microRNAs (miRNAs) can regulate RNAi. In worms lacking miR-35-41, there is reduced expression of lin-35/Rb, the C. elegans homolog of the tumor suppressor Retinoblastoma gene, previously shown to regulate RNAi responsiveness. Genome-wide microarray analyses show that targets of endo–siRNAs are up-regulated in mir-35-41 mutants, a phenotype also displayed by lin-35/Rb mutants. Furthermore, overexpression of lin-35/Rb specifically rescues the RNAi hypersensitivity of mir-35-41 mutants. Although the mir-35-41 miRNAs appear to be exclusively expressed in germline and embryos, their effect on RNAi sensitivity is transmitted to multiple tissues and stages of development. Additionally, we demonstrate that maternal contribution of miR-35-41 or lin-35/Rb is sufficient to reduce RNAi effectiveness in progeny worms. Our results reveal that miRNAs can broadly regulate other small RNA pathways and, thus, have far reaching effects on gene expression beyond directly targeting specific mRNAs.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) has become a widely used approach for silencing genes of interest. This tool is possible because endogenous RNA silencing pathways exist broadly across organisms, including humans, worms, and plants. The general RNAi pathway utilizes small ∼21-nucleotide RNAs to target specific protein-coding genes through base-pairing interactions. Since RNAs from exogenous sources require some of the same factors as endogenous small RNAs to silence gene expression, there can be competition between the pathways. Thus, perturbations in the endogenous RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing efficiency by exogenous small RNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) comprise another endogenous small RNA pathway, but their biogenesis and mechanism of gene silencing are distinct in many ways from RNAi pathways. Here we show that a family of miRNAs regulates the effectiveness of RNAi in Caenorhabditis elegans. Loss of mir-35-41 results in enhanced RNAi by exogenous RNAs and reduced silencing of endogenous RNAi targets. The embryonic miR-35-41 miRNAs regulate the sensitivity to RNAi through lin-35/Rb, a homolog of the human Retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene previously shown to regulate RNAi effectiveness in C. elegans. Additionally, we show that this sensitivity can be passed on to the next generation of worms, demonstrating a far-reaching effect of the miR-35-41 miRNAs on gene regulation by other small RNA pathways.
PMCID: PMC3297572  PMID: 22412382
6.  Functional Specialization of the Small Interfering RNA Pathway in Response to Virus Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(8):e1003579.
In Drosophila, post-transcriptional gene silencing occurs when exogenous or endogenous double stranded RNA (dsRNA) is processed into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) by Dicer-2 (Dcr-2) in association with a dsRNA-binding protein (dsRBP) cofactor called Loquacious (Loqs-PD). siRNAs are then loaded onto Argonaute-2 (Ago2) by the action of Dcr-2 with another dsRBP cofactor called R2D2. Loaded Ago2 executes the destruction of target RNAs that have sequence complementarity to siRNAs. Although Dcr-2, R2D2, and Ago2 are essential for innate antiviral defense, the mechanism of virus-derived siRNA (vsiRNA) biogenesis and viral target inhibition remains unclear. Here, we characterize the response mechanism mediated by siRNAs against two different RNA viruses that infect Drosophila. In both cases, we show that vsiRNAs are generated by Dcr-2 processing of dsRNA formed during viral genome replication and, to a lesser extent, viral transcription. These vsiRNAs seem to preferentially target viral polyadenylated RNA to inhibit viral replication. Loqs-PD is completely dispensable for silencing of the viruses, in contrast to its role in silencing endogenous targets. Biogenesis of vsiRNAs is independent of both Loqs-PD and R2D2. R2D2, however, is required for sorting and loading of vsiRNAs onto Ago2 and inhibition of viral RNA expression. Direct injection of viral RNA into Drosophila results in replication that is also independent of Loqs-PD. This suggests that triggering of the antiviral pathway is not related to viral mode of entry but recognition of intrinsic features of virus RNA. Our results indicate the existence of a vsiRNA pathway that is separate from the endogenous siRNA pathway and is specifically triggered by virus RNA. We speculate that this unique framework might be necessary for a prompt and efficient antiviral response.
Author Summary
The RNA interference (RNAi) pathway utilizes small non-coding RNAs to silence gene expression. In insects, RNAi regulates endogenous genes and functions as an RNA-based immune system against viral infection. Here we have uncovered details of how RNAi is triggered by RNA viruses. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) generated as a replication intermediate or from transcription of the RNA virus can be used as substrate for the biogenesis of virus-derived small interfering RNAs (vsiRNAs). Unlike other dsRNAs, virus RNA processing involves Dicer but not its canonical partner protein Loqs-PD. Thus, vsiRNA biogenesis is mechanistically different from biogenesis of endogenous siRNAs or siRNAs derived from other exogenous RNA sources. Our results suggest a specialization of the pathway dedicated to silencing of RNA viruses versus other types of RNAi silencing. The understanding of RNAi mechanisms during viral infection could have implications for the control of insect-borne viruses and the use of siRNAs to treat viral infections in humans.
PMCID: PMC3757037  PMID: 24009507
7.  RNA Interference: Biology, Mechanism, and Applications 
Double-stranded RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) is a simple and rapid method of silencing gene expression in a range of organisms. The silencing of a gene is a consequence of degradation of RNA into short RNAs that activate ribonucleases to target homologous mRNA. The resulting phenotypes either are identical to those of genetic null mutants or resemble an allelic series of mutants. Specific gene silencing has been shown to be related to two ancient processes, cosuppression in plants and quelling in fungi, and has also been associated with regulatory processes such as transposon silencing, antiviral defense mechanisms, gene regulation, and chromosomal modification. Extensive genetic and biochemical analysis revealed a two-step mechanism of RNAi-induced gene silencing. The first step involves degradation of dsRNA into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), 21 to 25 nucleotides long, by an RNase III-like activity. In the second step, the siRNAs join an RNase complex, RISC (RNA-induced silencing complex), which acts on the cognate mRNA and degrades it. Several key components such as Dicer, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, helicases, and dsRNA endonucleases have been identified in different organisms for their roles in RNAi. Some of these components also control the development of many organisms by processing many noncoding RNAs, called micro-RNAs. The biogenesis and function of micro-RNAs resemble RNAi activities to a large extent. Recent studies indicate that in the context of RNAi, the genome also undergoes alterations in the form of DNA methylation, heterochromatin formation, and programmed DNA elimination. As a result of these changes, the silencing effect of gene functions is exercised as tightly as possible. Because of its exquisite specificity and efficiency, RNAi is being considered as an important tool not only for functional genomics, but also for gene-specific therapeutic activities that target the mRNAs of disease-related genes.
PMCID: PMC309050  PMID: 14665679
8.  The DNA/RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase QDE-1 Generates Aberrant RNA and dsRNA for RNAi in a Process Requiring Replication Protein A and a DNA Helicase 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(10):e1000496.
The Neurospora RNA-dependent RNA polymerase QDE-1 is an RNA polymerase that can use both RNA and DNA as templates, suggesting a new mechanism for small RNA production.
The production of aberrant RNA (aRNA) is the initial step in several RNAi pathways. How aRNA is produced and specifically recognized by RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRPs) to generate double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) is not clear. We previously showed that in the filamentous fungus Neurospora, the RdRP QDE-1 is required for rDNA-specific aRNA production, suggesting that QDE-1 may be important in aRNA synthesis. Here we show that a recombinant QDE-1 is both an RdRP and a DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (DdRP). Its DdRP activity is much more robust than the RdRP activity and occurs on ssDNA but not dsDNA templates. We further show that Replication Protein A (RPA), a single-stranded DNA-binding complex that interacts with QDE-1, is essential for aRNA production and gene silencing. In vitro reconstitution assays demonstrate that QDE-1 can produce dsRNA from ssDNA, a process that is strongly promoted by RPA. Furthermore, the interaction between QDE-1 and RPA requires the RecQ DNA helicase QDE-3, a homolog of the human Werner/Bloom Syndrome proteins. Together, these results suggest a novel small RNA biogenesis pathway in Neurospora and a new mechanism for the production of aRNA and dsRNA in RNAi pathways.
Author Summary
Small RNA molecules (20–30 nucleotides) play important roles in many cellular processes in eukaryotic organisms by silencing gene expression. To generate the many forms of small RNAs, DNA is first transcribed to produce single-stranded RNA (ssRNA), which then is converted to double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) by an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP). However, it is not clear how the ssRNA templates are synthesized from DNA and specifically recognized by RdRPs amidst a sea of single-stranded, cellular RNAs. We previously showed that in the filamentous fungus Neurospora the production of one type of small RNA called qiRNA, which is specifically induced after DNA damage, requires the RdRP QDE-1. Here, we investigated the precise contributions of QDE-1 to the synthesis of ssRNA and dsRNA. We show that QDE-1 is surprisingly promiscuous in its template choice in that it is able to synthesize RNA from both ssRNA and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA). These results suggest that QDE-1 first generates ssRNA from a DNA template and then converts the ssRNA into dsRNA; this combination of activities in one protein ensures the specific action by RdRP on aberrant RNA in lieu of other single-stranded cellular RNA. In addition, we identified Replication Protein A, a ssDNA-binding protein that interacts with QDE-1, as an essential factor for small RNA production. Furthermore, we were able to reconstitute synthesis of dsRNA from ssDNA in a test tube using purified QDE-1 and RPA proteins, demonstrating the ability of this relatively simple biosynthetic system to generate the nucleic acid trigger for gene regulation. Together, these results uncover the details of a new and important small RNA production mechanism in cells.
PMCID: PMC2950127  PMID: 20957187
9.  MicroRNA–Directed siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(4):e1000903.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional silencing process, triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), leading to the destabilization of homologous mRNAs. A distinction has been made between endogenous RNAi–related pathways and the exogenous RNAi pathway, the latter being essential for the experimental use of RNAi. Previous studies have shown that, in Caenorhabditis elegans, a complex containing the enzymes Dicer and the Argonaute RDE-1 process dsRNA. Dicer is responsible for cleaving dsRNA into short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) while RDE-1 acts as the siRNA acceptor. RDE-1 then guides a multi-protein complex to homologous targets to trigger mRNA destabilization. However, endogenous role(s) for RDE-1, if any, have remained unexplored. We here show that RDE-1 functions as a scavenger protein, taking up small RNA molecules from many different sources, including the microRNA (miRNA) pathway. This is in striking contrast to Argonaute proteins functioning directly in the miRNA pathway, ALG-1 and ALG-2: these proteins exclusively bind miRNAs. While playing no significant role in the biogenesis of the main pool of miRNAs, RDE-1 binds endogenous miRNAs and triggers RdRP activity on at least one perfectly matching, endogenous miRNA target. The resulting secondary siRNAs are taken up by a set of Argonaute proteins known to act as siRNA acceptors in exogenous RNAi, resulting in strong mRNA destabilization. Our results show that RDE-1 in an endogenous setting is actively screening the transcriptome using many different small RNAs, including miRNAs, as a guide, with implications for the evolution of transcripts with a potential to be recognized by Dicer.
Author Summary
Due to its intrinsic characteristics, RNA interference (RNAi) has become one of the most widely used tools in cell biology and has revolutionized approaches to elucidate gene function. The process, also known as RNA silencing, is triggered by dsRNA molecules that are cleaved by Dicer proteins into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). The rde-1 gene from Caenorhabditis elegans was one of the first genes found in association with this mechanism and encodes the only Argonaute protein in worms, which is by itself essential for the classical RNAi pathway triggered by exogenously introduced dsRNA. However, little is known about endogenous functions of RDE-1. Here we show that RDE-1 binds to many classes of small RNAs, including microRNAs. We show that miR-243 is efficiently bound by RDE-1 and triggers regular RNAi on an endogenous target, implying that many RNA species, including miRNAs, are constantly being screened against the transcriptome using the canonical exogenous RNAi pathway.
PMCID: PMC2851571  PMID: 20386745
10.  mRNA turnover rate limits siRNA and microRNA efficacy 
Based on a simple model of the mRNA life cycle, we predict that mRNAs with high turnover rates in the cell are more difficult to perturb with RNAi.We test this hypothesis using a luciferase reporter system and obtain additional evidence from a variety of large-scale data sets, including microRNA overexpression experiments and RT–qPCR-based efficacy measurements for thousands of siRNAs.Our results suggest that mRNA half-lives will influence how mRNAs are differentially perturbed whenever small RNA levels change in the cell, not only after transfection but also during differentiation, pathogenesis and normal cell physiology.
What determines how strongly an mRNA responds to a microRNA or an siRNA? We know that properties of the sequence match between the small RNA and the mRNA are crucial. However, large-scale validations of siRNA efficacies have shown that certain transcripts remain recalcitrant to perturbation even after repeated redesign of the siRNA (Krueger et al, 2007). Weak response to RNAi may thus be an inherent property of the mRNA, but the underlying factors have proven difficult to uncover.
siRNAs induce degradation by sequence-specific cleavage of their target mRNAs (Elbashir et al, 2001). MicroRNAs, too, induce mRNA degradation, and ∼80% of their effect on protein levels can be explained by changes in transcript abundance (Hendrickson et al, 2009; Guo et al, 2010). Given that multiple factors act simultaneously to degrade individual mRNAs, we here consider whether variable responses to micro/siRNA regulation may, in part, be explained simply by the basic dynamics of mRNA turnover. If a transcript is already under strong destabilizing regulation, it is theoretically possible that the relative change in abundance after the addition of a novel degrading factor would be less pronounced compared with a stable transcript (Figure 1). mRNA turnover is achieved by a multitude of factors, and the influence of such factors on targetability can be explored. However, their combined action, including yet unknown factors, is summarized into a single property: the mRNA decay rate.
First, we explored the theoretical relationship between the pre-existing turnover rate of an mRNA, and its expected susceptibility to perturbation by a small RNA. We assumed a basic model of the mRNA life cycle, in which the rate of transcription is constant and the rate of degradation is described by first-order kinetics. Under this model, the relative change in steady-state expression level will become smaller as the pre-existing decay rate grows larger, independent of the transcription rate. This relationship persists also if we assume various degrees of synergy and antagonism between the pre-existing factors and the external factor, with increasing synergism leading to transcripts being more equally targetable, regardless of their pre-existing decay rate.
We next generated a series of four luciferase reporter constructs with destabilizing AU-rich elements (AREs) of various strengths incorporated into their 3′ UTRs. To evaluate how the different constructs would respond to perturbation, we performed co-transfections with an siRNA targeted at the coding region of the luciferase gene. This reduced the signal of the non-destabilized construct to 26% compared with a control siRNA. In contrast, the most destabilized construct showed 42% remaining reporter activity, and we could observe a dose–response relationship across the series.
The reporter experiment encouraged an investigation of this effect on real-world mRNAs. We analyzed a set of 2622 siRNAs, for which individual efficacies were determined using RT–qPCR 48 h post-transfection in HeLa cells ( Of these, 1778 could be associated with an experimentally determined decay rate (Figure 4A). Although the overall correlation between the two variables was modest (Spearman's rank correlation rs=0.22, P<1e−20), we found that siRNAs directed at high-turnover (t1/2<200 min) and medium-turnover (2001000 min) transcripts (P<8e−11 and 4e−9, respectively, two-tailed KS-test, Figure 4B). While 41.6% (498/1196) of the siRNAs directed at low-turnover transcripts reached 10% remaining expression or better, only 16.7% (31/186) of the siRNAs that targeted high-turnover mRNAs reached this high degree of silencing (Figure 4B). Reduced targetability (25.2%, 100/396) was also seen for transcripts with medium-turnover rate.
Our results based on siRNA data suggested that turnover rates could also influence microRNA targeting. By assembling genome-wide mRNA expression data from 20 published microRNA transfections in HeLa cells, we found that predicted target mRNAs with short and medium half-life were significantly less repressed after transfection than their long-lived counterparts (P<8e−5 and P<0.03, respectively, two-tailed KS-test). Specifically, 10.2% (293/2874) of long-lived targets versus 4.4% (41/942) of short-lived targets were strongly (z-score <−3) repressed. siRNAs are known to cause off-target effects that are mediated, in part, by microRNA-like seed complementarity (Jackson et al, 2006). We analyzed changes in transcript levels after transfection of seven different siRNAs, each with a unique seed region (Jackson et al, 2006). Putative ‘off-targets' were identified by mapping of non-conserved seed matches in 3′ UTRs. We found that low-turnover mRNAs (t1/2 >1000 min) were more affected by seed-mediated off-target silencing than high-turnover mRNAs (t1/2 <200 min), with twice as many long-lived seed-containing transcripts (3.8 versus 1.9%) being strongly (z-score <−3) repressed.
In summary, mRNA turnover rates have an important influence on the changes exerted by small RNAs on mRNA levels. It can be assumed that mRNA half-lives will influence how mRNAs are differentially perturbed whenever small RNA levels change in the cell, not only after transfection but also during differentiation, pathogenesis and normal cell physiology.
The microRNA pathway participates in basic cellular processes and its discovery has enabled the development of si/shRNAs as powerful investigational tools and potential therapeutics. Based on a simple kinetic model of the mRNA life cycle, we hypothesized that mRNAs with high turnover rates may be more resistant to RNAi-mediated silencing. The results of a simple reporter experiment strongly supported this hypothesis. We followed this with a genome-wide scale analysis of a rich corpus of experiments, including RT–qPCR validation data for thousands of siRNAs, siRNA/microRNA overexpression data and mRNA stability data. We find that short-lived transcripts are less affected by microRNA overexpression, suggesting that microRNA target prediction would be improved if mRNA turnover rates were considered. Similarly, short-lived transcripts are more difficult to silence using siRNAs, and our results may explain why certain transcripts are inherently recalcitrant to perturbation by small RNAs.
PMCID: PMC3010119  PMID: 21081925
microRNA; mRNA decay; RNAi; siRNA
11.  Structural insights into RISC assembly facilitated by dsRNA-binding domains of human RNA helicase A (DHX9) 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(5):3457-3470.
Intensive research interest has focused on small RNA-processing machinery and the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), key cellular machines in RNAi pathways. However, the structural mechanism regarding RISC assembly, the primary step linking small RNA processing and RNA-mediated gene silencing, is largely unknown. Human RNA helicase A (DHX9) was reported to function as an RISC-loading factor, and such function is mediated mainly by its dsRNA-binding domains (dsRBDs). Here, we report the crystal structures of human RNA helicase A (RHA) dsRBD1 and dsRBD2 domains in complex with dsRNAs, respectively. Structural analysis not only reveals higher siRNA duplex-binding affinity displayed by dsRBD1, but also identifies a crystallographic dsRBD1 pair of physiological significance in cooperatively recognizing dsRNAs. Structural observations are further validated by isothermal titration calorimetric (ITC) assay. Moreover, co-immunoprecipitation (co-IP) assay coupled with mutagenesis demonstrated that both dsRBDs are required for RISC association, and such association is mediated by dsRNA. Hence, our structural and functional efforts have revealed a potential working model for siRNA recognition by RHA tandem dsRBDs, and together they provide direct structural insights into RISC assembly facilitated by RHA.
PMCID: PMC3597700  PMID: 23361462
12.  Dengue Virus Type 2 Infections of Aedes aegypti Are Modulated by the Mosquito's RNA Interference Pathway 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000299.
A number of studies have shown that both innate and adaptive immune defense mechanisms greatly influence the course of human dengue virus (DENV) infections, but little is known about the innate immune response of the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti to arbovirus infection. We present evidence here that a major component of the mosquito innate immune response, RNA interference (RNAi), is an important modulator of mosquito infections. The RNAi response is triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which occurs in the cytoplasm as a result of positive-sense RNA virus infection, leading to production of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). These siRNAs are instrumental in degradation of viral mRNA with sequence homology to the dsRNA trigger and thereby inhibition of virus replication. We show that although dengue virus type 2 (DENV2) infection of Ae. aegypti cultured cells and oral infection of adult mosquitoes generated dsRNA and production of DENV2-specific siRNAs, virus replication and release of infectious virus persisted, suggesting viral circumvention of RNAi. We also show that DENV2 does not completely evade RNAi, since impairing the pathway by silencing expression of dcr2, r2d2, or ago2, genes encoding important sensor and effector proteins in the RNAi pathway, increased virus replication in the vector and decreased the extrinsic incubation period required for virus transmission. Our findings indicate a major role for RNAi as a determinant of DENV transmission by Ae. aegypti.
Author Summary
Dengue viruses, globally the most prevalent arboviruses, are transmitted to humans by persistently infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Understanding the mechanisms mosquitoes use to modulate infections by these agents of serious human diseases should give us critical insights into virus–vector interactions leading to transmission. RNA interference (RNAi) is an innate defense mechanism used by invertebrates to inhibit RNA virus infections; however, little is known about the antiviral role of RNAi in mosquitoes. RNAi is triggered by double-stranded RNA, leading to degradation of RNA with sequence homology to the dsRNA trigger. We show that dengue virus type 2 (DENV2) infection of Ae. aegypti by the natural route generates dsRNA and DENV2-specific small interfering RNAs, hallmarks of the RNAi response; nevertheless, persistent infection of mosquitoes occurs, suggesting that DENV2 circumvents RNAi. We also show that DENV2 infection is modulated by RNAi, since impairment by silencing expression of genes encoding important sensor and effector proteins in the RNAi pathway increases virus replication in the vector and decreases the incubation period before virus transmission. Our findings indicate a significant role for RNAi in determining the mosquito vector's potential for transmitting human diseases.
PMCID: PMC2633610  PMID: 19214215
13.  Putative SF2 helicases of the early-branching eukaryote Giardia lamblia are involved in antigenic variation and parasite differentiation into cysts 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:284.
Regulation of surface antigenic variation in Giardia lamblia is controlled post-transcriptionally by an RNA-interference (RNAi) pathway that includes a Dicer-like bidentate RNase III (gDicer). This enzyme, however, lacks the RNA helicase domain present in Dicer enzymes from higher eukaryotes. The participation of several RNA helicases in practically all organisms in which RNAi was studied suggests that RNA helicases are potentially involved in antigenic variation, as well as during Giardia differentiation into cysts.
An extensive in silico analysis of the Giardia genome identified 32 putative Super Family 2 RNA helicases that contain almost all the conserved RNA helicase motifs. Phylogenetic studies and sequence analysis separated them into 22 DEAD-box, 6 DEAH-box and 4 Ski2p-box RNA helicases, some of which are homologs of well-characterized helicases from higher organisms. No Giardia putative helicase was found to have significant homology to the RNA helicase domain of Dicer enzymes. Additionally a series of up- and down-regulated putative RNA helicases were found during encystation and antigenic variation by qPCR experiments. Finally, we were able to recognize 14 additional putative helicases from three different families (RecQ family, Swi2/Snf2 and Rad3 family) that could be considered DNA helicases.
This is the first comprehensive analysis of the Super Family 2 helicases from the human intestinal parasite G. lamblia. The relative and variable expression of particular RNA helicases during both antigenic variation and encystation agrees with the proposed participation of these enzymes during both adaptive processes. The putatives RNA and DNA helicases identified in this early-branching eukaryote provide initial information regarding the biological role of these enzymes in cell adaptation and differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3566956  PMID: 23190735
RNA/DNA helicases; Giardia lamblia; Encystation; Antigenic variation; Cell differentiation; Gene expression; RNAi; Dicer
14.  HrpA, an RNA Helicase Involved in RNA Processing, Is Required for Mouse Infectivity and Tick Transmission of the Lyme Disease Spirochete 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(12):e1003841.
The Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi must differentially express genes and proteins in order to survive in and transit between its tick vector and vertebrate reservoir. The putative DEAH-box RNA helicase, HrpA, has been recently identified as an addition to the spirochete's global regulatory machinery; using proteomic methods, we demonstrated that HrpA modulates the expression of at least 180 proteins. Although most bacteria encode an HrpA helicase, RNA helicase activity has never been demonstrated for HrpAs and the literature contains little information on the contribution of this protein to bacterial physiology or pathogenicity. In this work, we report that B. burgdorferi HrpA has RNA-stimulated ATPase activity and RNA helicase activity and that this enzyme is essential for both mammalian infectivity by syringe inoculation and tick transmission. Reduced infectivity of strains carrying mutations in the ATPase and RNA binding motif mutants suggests that full virulence expression requires both ATPase and coupled helicase activity. Microarray profiling revealed changes in RNA levels of two-fold, or less in an hrpA mutant versus wild-type, suggesting that the enzyme functions largely or exclusively at the post-transcriptional level. In this regard, northern blot analysis of selected gene products highly regulated by HrpA (bb0603 [p66], bba74, bb0241 [glpK], bb0242 and bb0243 [glpA]) suggests a role for HrpA in the processing and translation of transcripts. In addition to being the first demonstration of RNA helicase activity for a bacterial HrpA, our data indicate that the post-transcriptional regulatory functions of this enzyme are essential for maintenance of the Lyme disease spirochete's enzootic cycle.
Author Summary
The bacterium causing Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, must differentially express genes and proteins in order to survive in and transit between its tick vector and animals that it infects. RNA helicases, enzymes that unwind double-stranded RNA, have recently emerged as major players in all types of processes involving RNA in higher organisms. But in spite of the ubiquitous presence of RNA helicases in bacteria, little is known regarding their function. The Lyme disease spirochete, which has a complex lifecycle involving ticks and vertebrate animals, encodes a single putative RNA helicase, HrpA. Here we establish that the purified protein indeed displays both ATPase and RNA helicase activity. In addition to being the first demonstration of RNA helicase activity for a bacterial HrpA, our data indicate that HrpA is involved in RNA processing of some genes. Our findings also show that HrpA is essential for both tick transmission and mouse infection and establish the RNA helicase as an important component in both parts of the spirochete's lifecycle.
PMCID: PMC3868530  PMID: 24367266
15.  RNAi-Dependent and Independent Control of LINE1 Accumulation and Mobility in Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(11):e1003791.
In most mouse tissues, long-interspersed elements-1 (L1s) are silenced via methylation of their 5′-untranslated regions (5′-UTR). A gradual loss-of-methylation in pre-implantation embryos coincides with L1 retrotransposition in blastocysts, generating potentially harmful mutations. Here, we show that Dicer- and Ago2-dependent RNAi restricts L1 accumulation and retrotransposition in undifferentiated mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), derived from blastocysts. RNAi correlates with production of Dicer-dependent 22-nt small RNAs mapping to overlapping sense/antisense transcripts produced from the L1 5′-UTR. However, RNA-surveillance pathways simultaneously degrade these transcripts and, consequently, confound the anti-L1 RNAi response. In Dicer−/− mESC complementation experiments involving ectopic Dicer expression, L1 silencing was rescued in cells in which microRNAs remained strongly depleted. Furthermore, these cells proliferated and differentiated normally, unlike their non-complemented counterparts. These results shed new light on L1 biology, uncover defensive, in addition to regulatory roles for RNAi, and raise questions on the differentiation defects of Dicer−/− mESCs.
Author Summary
A basal network of gene regulation orchestrates the processes ensuring maintenance of genome integrity. Eukaryotic small RNAs generated by the RNAse-III Dicer have emerged as central players in this network, by mediating gene silencing at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional level via RNA interference (RNAi). To gain insight into their potential developmental functions in mammals, we have characterized small RNA expression profiles during mouse Embryonic Stem Cell (mESCs) differentiation, a model for early mammalian development. Long interspersed elements 1 (L1) are non-long-terminal-repeat retrotransposons that dominate the mouse genomic landscape, and are expressed in germ cells or during early development and mESCs. Based on clear precedents in plants and fission yeast, we investigated a role for RNAi and other RNA-based pathways in the regulation of L1 transcription and mobilization. Our work uncovered the existence of small (s)RNAs that map to active L1 elements. Some have characteristics of cognate siRNA produced by Dicer, while others display strand biases and length heterogeneity that evoke their biogenesis through RNA surveillance pathways, in a Dicer-independent manner. Furthermore, genetic ablation of DICER or of ARGONAUTE proteins has complex and profound consequences on L1 transcription and mobilization, indicating that endogenous RNAi do indeed maintain genomic integrity against L1 proliferation.
PMCID: PMC3820764  PMID: 24244175
16.  Structural Basis of RNA Recognition and Activation by Innate Immune Receptor RIG-I 
Nature  2011;479(7373):423-427.
RIG-I (Retinoic acid Inducible Gene - I) is a cytoplasmic pathogen recognition receptor that recognizes pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP) motifs to differentiate between viral and cellular RNAs. RIG-I is activated by blunt-ended double-stranded (ds) RNA with or without a 5′-triphosphate (ppp), single-stranded (ss) RNA marked by 5′-ppp1 and poly-uridine sequence2,3. Upon binding to such PAMP motifs, RIG-I initiates a signaling cascade that induces innate immune defenses and inflammatory cytokines to establish an antiviral state. The RIG-I pathway is highly regulated and aberrant signaling leads to apoptosis, altered cell differentiation, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and cancer4,5. The helicase and repressor domain (RD) of RIG-I recognize dsRNA and 5′-ppp RNA to activate the amino-terminal two CAspase Recruitment Domains (CARDs) for signaling. To understand the synergy between helicase and RD for RNA binding and the contribution of ATP hydrolysis to RIG-I activation, we determined the structure of human RIG-I helicase-RD in complex with dsRNA and an ATP-analog. The helicase-RD organizes into a ring around dsRNA, capping one end, while contacting both strands utilizing previously uncharacterized motifs to recognize dsRNA. Small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), limited proteolysis, and differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) suggest that RIG-I is in an extended and flexible conformation that compacts upon binding RNA. These results provide a detailed view of the helicase role in dsRNA recognition, the synergy between RD and the helicase for RNA binding, organization of full-length RIG-I bound to dsRNA, and evidence of a conformational change upon RNA binding. The RIG-I helicase-RD structure is consistent with dsRNA translocation without unwinding and cooperative binding to RNA. The structure yields unprecedented insight into innate immunity and has broader impact into other areas of biology, including RNA interference and DNA repair, which utilize homologous helicase domains within Dicer and FANCM.
PMCID: PMC3430514  PMID: 21947008
17.  RNAi-dependent and RNAi-independent mechanisms contribute to the silencing of RIPed sequences in Neurospora crassa 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(14):4237-4243.
RNA interference (RNAi) can silence genes at the transcriptional level by targeting locus-specific Lys9H3 methylation or at the post-transcriptional level by targeting mRNA degradation. Here we have cloned and sequenced genomic regions methylated in Lys9H3 in Neurospora crassa to test the requirements for components of the RNAi pathway in this modification. We find that 90% of clones map to repeated sequences and relics of transposons that have undergone repeat-induced point mutations (RIP). We find siRNAs derived from transposon relics indicating that the RNAi machinery targets these regions. This is confirmed by the fact that the presence of these siRNAs depends on components of the RNAi pathway such as the RdRP (QDE-1), the putative RecQ helicase (QDE-3) and the two Dicer enzymes. We show that Lys9H3 methylation of RIP sequences is not affected in mutants of the RNAi pathway indicating that the RNAi machinery is not involved in transcriptional gene silencing in Neurospora. We find that RIP regions are transcribed and that the transcript level increases in the mutants of the RNAi pathway. These data suggest that the biological function of the Neurospora RNAi machinery is to control transposon relics and repeated sequences by targeting degradation of transcripts derived from these regions.
PMCID: PMC514385  PMID: 15302921
18.  From promoting to inhibiting: diverse roles of helicases in HIV-1 Replication 
Retrovirology  2012;9:79.
Helicases hydrolyze nucleotide triphosphates (NTPs) and use the energy to modify the structures of nucleic acids. They are key players in every cellular process involving RNA or DNA. Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) does not encode a helicase, thus it has to exploit cellular helicases in order to efficiently replicate its RNA genome. Indeed, several helicases have been found to specifically associate with HIV-1 and promote viral replication. However, studies have also revealed a couple of helicases that inhibit HIV-1 replication; these findings suggest that HIV-1 can either benefit from the function of cellular helicases or become curtailed by these enzymes. In this review, we focus on what is known about how a specific helicase associates with HIV-1 and how a distinct step of HIV-1 replication is affected. Despite many helicases having demonstrated roles in HIV-1 replication and dozens of other helicase candidates awaiting to be tested, a deeper appreciation of their involvement in the HIV-1 life cycle is hindered by our limited knowledge at the enzymatic and molecular levels regarding how helicases shape the conformation and structure of viral RNA-protein complexes and how these conformational changes are translated into functional outcomes in the context of viral replication.
PMCID: PMC3484045  PMID: 23020886
HIV-1; helicase; RNP
19.  Double-stranded RNA-dependent ATPase DRH-3 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2010;285(33):25363-25371.
RNA helicases are proteins essential to almost every facet of RNA metabolism, including the gene-silencing pathways that employ small RNAs. A phylogenetically related group of helicases is required for the RNA-silencing mechanism in Caenorhabditis elegans. Dicer-related helicase 3 (DRH-3) is a Dicer-RIG-I family protein that is essential for RNA silencing and germline development in nematodes. Here we performed a biochemical characterization of the ligand binding and catalytic activities of DRH-3 in vitro. We identify signature motifs specific to this family of RNA helicases. We find that DRH-3 binds both single-stranded and double-stranded RNAs with high affinity. However, the ATPase activity of DRH-3 is stimulated only by double-stranded RNA. DRH-3 is a robust RNA-stimulated ATPase with a kcat value of 500/min when stimulated with short RNA duplexes. The DRH-3 ATPase may have allosteric regulation in cis that is controlled by the stoichiometry of double-stranded RNA to enzyme. We observe that the DRH-3 ATPase is stimulated only by duplexes containing RNA, suggesting a role for DRH-3 during or after transcription. Our findings provide clues to the role of DRH-3 during the RNA interference response in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2919099  PMID: 20529861
ATPases; Double-stranded RNA; RNA Helicase; RNA Interference (RNAi); siRNA
20.  Genome wide screening of RNAi factors of Sf21 cells reveal several novel pathway associated proteins 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):775.
RNA interference (RNAi) leads to sequence specific knock-down of gene expression and has emerged as an important tool to analyse gene functions, pathway analysis and gene therapy. Although RNAi is a conserved cellular process involving common elements and factors, species-specific differences have been observed among different eukaryotes. Identification of components for RNAi pathway is pursued intensively and successful genome-wide screens have been performed for components of RNAi pathways in various organisms. Functional comparative genomics analysis offers evolutionary insight that forms basis of discoveries of novel RNAi-factors within related organisms. Keeping in view the academic and commercial utility of insect derived cell-line from Spodoptera frugiperda, we pursued the identification and functional analysis of components of RNAi-machinery of Sf21 cell-line using genome-wide application.
The genome and transcriptome of Sf21 was assembled and annotated. In silico application of comparative genome analysis among insects allowed us to identify several RNAi factors in Sf21 line. The candidate RNAi factors from assembled genome were validated by knockdown analysis of candidate factors using the siRNA screens on the Sf21-gfp reporter cell-line. Forty two (42) potential factors were identified using the cell based assay. These include core RNAi elements including Dicer-2, Argonaute-1, Drosha, Aubergine and auxiliary modules like chromatin factors, RNA helicases, RNA processing module, signalling allied proteins and others. Phylogenetic analyses and domain architecture revealed that Spodoptera frugiperda homologs retained identity with Lepidoptera (Bombyx mori) or Coleoptera (Tribolium castaneum) sustaining an evolutionary conserved scaffold in post-transcriptional gene silencing paradigm within insects.
The database of RNAi-factors generated by whole genome association survey offers comprehensive outlook about conservation as well as specific differences of the proteins of RNAi machinery. Understanding the interior involved in different phases of gene silencing also offers impending tool for RNAi-based applications.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-775) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4247154  PMID: 25199785
RNA interference; siRNA screening; Sf21 cells; Genome-wide screening; Insect RNAi; Spodoptera frugiperda
21.  Development of Functional Genomic Tools in Trematodes: RNA Interference and Luciferase Reporter Gene Activity in Fasciola hepatica 
The growing availability of sequence information from diverse parasites through genomic and transcriptomic projects offer new opportunities for the identification of key mediators in the parasite–host interaction. Functional genomics approaches and methods for the manipulation of genes are essential tools for deciphering the roles of genes and to identify new intervention targets in parasites. Exciting advances in functional genomics for parasitic helminths are starting to occur, with transgene expression and RNA interference (RNAi) reported in several species of nematodes, but the area is still in its infancy in flatworms, with reports in just three species. While advancing in model organisms, there is a need to rapidly extend these technologies to other parasites responsible for several chronic diseases of humans and cattle. In order to extend these approaches to less well studied parasitic worms, we developed a test method for the presence of a viable RNAi pathway by silencing the exogenous reporter gene, firefly luciferase (fLUC). We established the method in the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni and then confirmed its utility in the liver fluke Fasciola hepatica. We transformed newly excysted juveniles of F. hepatica by electroporation with mRNA of fLUC and three hours later were able to detect luciferase enzyme activity, concentrated mainly in the digestive ceca. Subsequently, we tested the presence of an active RNAi pathway in F. hepatica by knocking down the exogenous luciferase activity by introduction into the transformed parasites of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) specific for fLUC. In addition, we tested the RNAi pathway targeting an endogenous F. hepatica gene encoding leucine aminopeptidase (FhLAP), and observed a significant reduction in specific mRNA levels. In summary, these studies demonstrated the utility of RNAi targeting reporter fLUC as a reporter gene assay to establish the presence of an intact RNAi pathway in helminth parasites. These could facilitate the study of gene function and the identification of relevant targets for intervention in organisms that are by other means intractable. More specifically, these results open new perspectives for functional genomics of F. hepatica, which hopefully can lead to the development of new interventions for fascioliasis.
Author Summary
Reverse genetics tools allow assessing the function of unknown genes. Their application for the study of neglected infectious diseases could lead eventually to the identification of relevant gene products to be used in diagnosis, or as drug targets or immunization candidates. Being technically more simple and less demanding than other reverse genetics tools such as transgenesis or knockouts, the suppression of gene activity mediated by double-stranded RNA has emerged as a powerful tool for the analysis of gene function. RNAi appeared as an obvious alternative to apply in complex biological systems where information is still scarce, a situation common to several infectious and parasitic diseases. However, several technical or practical difficulties have hampered the development of this technique in parasites to the expectations originally generated. We developed a simple method to test the presence of a viable RNAi pathway by silencing an exogenous reporter gene. The method was tested in F. hepatica, describing the conditions for transfection and confirming the existence of a viable RNAi pathway in this parasite. The experimental design created can be useful as a first approach in organisms where genetic analysis is still unavailable, providing a tool to unravel gene function and probably advancing new candidates relevant in pathobiology, prevention or treatment.
PMCID: PMC2440534  PMID: 18612418
22.  Rice SUV3 is a bidirectional helicase that binds both DNA and RNA 
BMC Plant Biology  2014;14(1):283.
Helicases play crucial role in almost all the nucleic acid metabolism including replication, repair, recombination, transcription, translation, ribosome biogenesis and splicing and these processes regulate plant growth and development. It is suggested that helicases play essential roles in stabilizing growth in plants under stress because their presence in the stress-induced ORFs has been identified. Moreover in a recent study we have reported that SUV3 helicase from Oryza sativa (OsSUV3) functions in salinity stress tolerance in transgenic rice by improving the antioxidant machinery. SUV3 helicase has been identified and characterized from yeast and human systems but the properties and functions of plant SUV3 are poorly understood.
In this study, the purification and extensive characterization of recombinant OsSUV3 protein (67 kDa) is presented. OsSUV3 binds to DNA and RNA and exhibits DNA as well as RNA-dependent ATPase activities. It also contains the characteristic DNA and RNA helicase activity. OsSUV3 can use mainly ATP or dATP as energy source for the unwinding activity and it cannot unwind the blunt-end duplex DNA substrate. It is interesting to note that OsSUV3 unwinds DNA in both the 5’-3’ and 3’-5 directions and thus its activity is bipolar in vitro. The Km values of OsSUV3 are 0.51 nM and 0.95 nM for DNA helicase and RNA helicase, respectively.
This study is the first direct evidence to show the bipolar DNA helicase activity of OsSUV3 protein. The unique properties of OsSUV3 including its dual helicase activity imply that it could be a multifunctional protein involved in biologically significant process of DNA and RNA metabolisms. These results should make significant contribution towards better understanding of SUV3 protein in plants.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12870-014-0283-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4207899  PMID: 25311683
ATPase; Mitochondrial protein; Oryza sativa; Plant DNA and RNA helicases; SUV3; Unwinding
23.  ATP-Induced Helicase Slippage Reveals Highly Coordinated Subunits 
Nature  2011;478(7367):132-135.
Helicases are vital enzymes that carry out strand separation of duplex nucleic acids during replication, repair, and recombination1,2. Bacteriophage T7 gene product 4 is a model hexameric helicase which has been observed to utilize dTTP, but not ATP, to unwind dsDNA as it translocates from 5′ to 3′ along ssDNA2–6. Whether and how different subunits of the helicase coordinate their chemo-mechanical activities and DNA binding during translocation is still under debate1,7. Here we address this question using a single molecule approach to monitor helicase unwinding. We discovered that T7 helicase does in fact unwind dsDNA in the presence of ATP and the unwinding rate is even faster than that with dTTP. However unwinding traces showed a remarkable sawtooth pattern where processive unwinding was repeatedly interrupted by sudden slippage events, ultimately preventing unwinding over a substantial distance. This behavior was not observed with dTTP alone and was greatly reduced when ATP solution was supplemented with a small amount of dTTP. These findings presented an opportunity to use nucleotide mixtures to investigate helicase subunit coordination. We found T7 helicase binds and hydrolyzes ATP and dTTP by competitive kinetics such that the unwinding rate is dictated simply by their respective Vmax, KM, and concentrations. In contrast, processivity does not follow a simple competitive behavior and shows a cooperative dependence on nucleotide concentrations. This does not agree with an uncoordinated mechanism where each subunit functions independently, but supports a model where nearly all subunits coordinate their chemo-mechanical activities and DNA binding. Our data indicate that only one subunit at a time can accept a nucleotide while other subunits are nucleotide-ligated and thus interact with the DNA to ensure processivity. Such subunit coordination may be general to many ring-shaped helicases and reveals a potential mechanism for regulation of DNA unwinding during replication.
PMCID: PMC3190587  PMID: 21927003
24.  The RNA Helicases AtMTR4 and HEN2 Target Specific Subsets of Nuclear Transcripts for Degradation by the Nuclear Exosome in Arabidopsis thaliana 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(8):e1004564.
The RNA exosome is the major 3′-5′ RNA degradation machine of eukaryotic cells and participates in processing, surveillance and turnover of both nuclear and cytoplasmic RNA. In both yeast and human, all nuclear functions of the exosome require the RNA helicase MTR4. We show that the Arabidopsis core exosome can associate with two related RNA helicases, AtMTR4 and HEN2. Reciprocal co-immunoprecipitation shows that each of the RNA helicases co-purifies with the exosome core complex and with distinct sets of specific proteins. While AtMTR4 is a predominantly nucleolar protein, HEN2 is located in the nucleoplasm and appears to be excluded from nucleoli. We have previously shown that the major role of AtMTR4 is the degradation of rRNA precursors and rRNA maturation by-products. Here, we demonstrate that HEN2 is involved in the degradation of a large number of polyadenylated nuclear exosome substrates such as snoRNA and miRNA precursors, incompletely spliced mRNAs, and spurious transcripts produced from pseudogenes and intergenic regions. Only a weak accumulation of these exosome substrate targets is observed in mtr4 mutants, suggesting that MTR4 can contribute, but plays rather a minor role for the degradation of non-ribosomal RNAs and cryptic transcripts in Arabidopsis. Consistently, transgene post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) is marginally affected in mtr4 mutants, but increased in hen2 mutants, suggesting that it is mostly the nucleoplasmic exosome that degrades aberrant transgene RNAs to limit their entry in the PTGS pathway. Interestingly, HEN2 is conserved throughout green algae, mosses and land plants but absent from metazoans and other eukaryotic lineages. Our data indicate that, in contrast to human and yeast, plants have two functionally specialized RNA helicases that assist the exosome in the degradation of specific nucleolar and nucleoplasmic RNA populations, respectively.
Author Summary
Cells rely on a number of RNA degradation pathways to ensure correct and timely processing and turnover of both coding and non-coding RNAs. Another important function of RNA degradation is the rapid elimination of misprocessed RNA species, maturation by-products, and nonfunctional RNAs that are frequently produced by pervasive transcription. The main 3′-5′ RNA degradation machine in eukaryotic cells is the exosome, which is activated by cofactors such as RNA helicases. In yeast and human, processing, turnover and surveillance of all nuclear exosome targets depend on a single RNA helicase, MTR4. We show here that the Arabidopsis exosome complex can associate with two related RNA helicases, MTR4 and HEN2. MTR4 and HEN2 reside in nucleolar and nucleoplasmic compartments, respectively, and target different subsets of nuclear RNA substrates for degradation by the exosome. The presence of both MTR4 and HEN2 homologues in green algae, mosses and land plants suggest that the functional duality of exosome-associated RNA helicases is evolutionarily conserved in the entire green lineage. The emerging picture is that, despite a high degree of sequence conservation, intracellular distribution, activities and functions of exosome cofactors vary considerably among different eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC4140647  PMID: 25144737
25.  A Co-Opted DEAD-Box RNA Helicase Enhances Tombusvirus Plus-Strand Synthesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(2):e1002537.
Replication of plus-strand RNA viruses depends on recruited host factors that aid several critical steps during replication. In this paper, we show that an essential translation factor, Ded1p DEAD-box RNA helicase of yeast, directly affects replication of Tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV). To separate the role of Ded1p in viral protein translation from its putative replication function, we utilized a cell-free TBSV replication assay and recombinant Ded1p. The in vitro data show that Ded1p plays a role in enhancing plus-strand synthesis by the viral replicase. We also find that Ded1p is a component of the tombusvirus replicase complex and Ded1p binds to the 3′-end of the viral minus-stranded RNA. The data obtained with wt and ATPase deficient Ded1p mutants support the model that Ded1p unwinds local structures at the 3′-end of the TBSV (−)RNA, rendering the RNA compatible for initiation of (+)-strand synthesis. Interestingly, we find that Ded1p and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), which is another host factor for TBSV, play non-overlapping functions to enhance (+)-strand synthesis. Altogether, the two host factors enhance TBSV replication synergistically by interacting with the viral (−)RNA and the replication proteins. In addition, we have developed an in vitro assay for Flock house virus (FHV), a small RNA virus of insects, that also demonstrated positive effect on FHV replicase activity by the added Ded1p helicase. Thus, two small RNA viruses, which do not code for their own helicases, seems to recruit a host RNA helicase to aid their replication in infected cells.
Author Summary
Subverted host factors play a role in plus-strand RNA virus replication. Small RNA viruses do not code for their own helicases and they might recruit host RNA helicases to aid their replication in infected cells. In this paper, the authors show that the Ded1p DEAD-box helicase, which is an essential translation factor in yeast, is recruited by Tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV) into its replicase complex. They also show that Ded1p binds to the viral (−)RNA and promotes (+)-strand TBSV synthesis when added to a yeast-based cell-free extract depleted for Ded1p. An ATPase defective Ded1p mutant failed to promote TBSV replication in vitro, suggesting that the helicase activity of Ded1p is essential for its function during TBSV replication. In addition, the authors also show that another host protein, which also binds to the (−)RNA, namely glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), further enhances TBSV (+)RNA when added together with Ded1p to yeast-based cell-free extract. In summary, the authors show that the major functions of Ded1p and GAPDH host proteins are to promote TBSV replication via selectively enhancing (+)-strand synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3280988  PMID: 22359508

Results 1-25 (1266893)