Trypanosoma cruzi, the agent of Chagas disease, is a protozoan member of the Kinetoplastidae family characterized for the presence of specific and unique structures that are involved in different cell activities. One of them is the paraflagellar rod (PFR), a complex array of filaments connected to the flagellar axoneme. Although the function played by the PFR is not well established, it has been shown that silencing of the synthesis of its major proteins by either knockout of RNAi impairs and/or modifies the flagellar motility.
Here, we present results obtained by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of replicas of quick-frozen, freeze-fractured, deep-etched and rotary-replicated cells to obtain detailed information of the PFR structures in regions of the flagellum in straight and in bent state. The images obtained show that the PFR is not a fixed and static structure. The pattern of organization of the PFR filament network differs between regions of the flagellum in a straight state and those in a bent state. Measurements of the distances between the PFR filaments and the filaments that connect the PFR to the axoneme as well as of the angles between the intercrossed filaments supported this idea.
Graphic computation based on the information obtained allowed the proposal of an animated model for the PFR structure during flagellar beating and provided a new way of observing PFR filaments during flagellar beating.
RNA interference (RNAi), used as a tool, has revolutionized the studies of gene function. Long stem-loop dsRNA has been proven the most effective trigger for down-regulating target transcripts in RNAi-positive trypanosomatid parasites. Here we describe a protocol for constructing plasmids that produce long stem-loops by using a single cloning step. Inverted repeats are first obtained by self-ligation of PCR products that contain a randomized segment at one of their ends and then inserted in a plasmid vector. The random sequences create the loop (or “stuffer”) of the hairpin. This methodology was tested in Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis to constitutively knock down the mRNAs for the well-studied paraflagellar rod protein 1 and 2 (PFR1 and PFR2) genes and revealed that mRNA cleavage products are unusually stable in these parasites. The protocol is suitable for any plasmid (for constitutive or inducible expression) and for any organism in which long stem-loops can be used to elicit RNAi.
RNAi; hairpin RNA; inverted repeat cloning; Leishmania braziliensis
Eukaryotic flagella from organisms such as Trypanosoma brucei can
be isolated and their protein components identified by mass spectrometry. Here
we used a comparative approach utilizing two-dimensional difference gel
electrophoresis and isobaric tags for relative and absolute quantitation to
reveal protein components of flagellar structures via ablation by inducible
RNA interference mutation. By this approach we identified 20 novel components
of the paraflagellar rod (PFR). Using epitope tagging we validated a subset of
these as being present within the PFR by immunofluorescence. Bioinformatic
analysis of the PFR cohort reveals a likely calcium/calmodulin
regulatory/signaling linkage between some components. We extended the RNA
interference mutant/comparative proteomic analysis to individual novel
components of our PFR proteome, showing that the approach has the power to
reveal dependences between subgroups within the cohort.
In animals and protozoa gene-specific double-stranded RNA triggers the degradation of homologous cellular RNAs, the phenomenon of RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi has been shown to represent a novel paradigm in eukaryotic biology and a powerful method for studying gene function. Here we discuss RNAi in terms of its mechanism, its relationship to other post-transcriptional gene silencing phenomena in plants and fungi, its connection to retroposon silencing and possibly to translation, and its biological role. Among the organisms where RNAi has been demonstrated the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei represents the most ancient branch of the eukaryotic lineage. We provide a synopsis of what is currently known about RNAi in T. brucei and outline the recent advances that make RNAi the method of choice to disrupt gene function in these organisms.
Trypanosoma brucei is a protozoan parasite that is used as a model organism to study such biological phenomena as gene expression, protein trafficking, and cytoskeletal biogenesis. In T. brucei, endocytosis and exocytosis occur exclusively through a sequestered organelle called the flagellar pocket (FP), an invagination of the pellicular membrane. The pocket is the sole site for specific receptors thus maintaining them inaccessible to components of the innate immune system of the mammalian host. The FP is also responsible for the sorting of protective parasite glycoproteins targeted to, or recycling from, the pellicular membrane, and for the removal of host antibodies from the cell surface. Here, we describe the first characterisation of a flagellar pocket cytoskeletal protein, BILBO1. BILBO1 functions to form a cytoskeleton framework upon which the FP is made and which is also required and essential for FP biogenesis and cell survival. Remarkably, RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated ablation of BILBO1 in insect procyclic-form parasites prevents FP biogenesis and induces vesicle accumulation, Golgi swelling, the aberrant repositioning of the new flagellum, and cell death. Cultured bloodstream-form parasites are also nonviable when subjected to BILBO1 RNAi. These results provide the first molecular evidence for cytoskeletally mediated FP biogenesis.
Trypanosomes are ubiquitous unicellular parasites that infect humans, animals, insects, and plants. African, Asian, and some South American trypanosomes have evolved the amazing ability to change their surface coat proteins, an essential strategy for their survival. The surface coat proteins are recycled and targeted to the surface of the parasite via an endocytic and exocytotic organelle called the flagellar pocket, which is sequestered in the trypanosome cell's cytoplasm. The flagellar pocket is also used to remove host-derived antibodies that are bound to the surface of the parasite, making this organelle critical for the parasite's evasion of the host immune system. We describe a novel protein, “BILBO1,” which was identified from the insect-form parasite of the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei. We show that BILBO1 is part of a ring or horseshoe-like cytoskeletal structure that is located in a region of the flagellar pocket called the collar. When BILBO1 transcripts were knocked down with inducible RNA interference, trypanosome cells became arrested in a post-mitotic cell-cycle stage. Induced cells lost the normal flagellum-to-cell-body attachment, were unable to regulate endocytosis and exocytosis, and most importantly, were unable to construct a new flagellar pocket. These results provide molecular evidence for the idea that flagellar pocket biogenesis is cytoskeletally mediated.
RNAi of the parasite protein BILBO1 prevents the biogenesis of the endocytic and exocytotic organelle in Trypanosoma brucei, kills the parasite, and reveals novel insights into how this pathogen organizes and uses one of its distinctive organelles.
Flagellum motility is critical for normal human development and for transmission of pathogenic protozoa that cause tremendous human suffering worldwide. Biophysical principles underlying motility of eukaryotic flagella are conserved from protists to vertebrates. However, individual cells exhibit diverse waveforms that depend on cell-specific elaborations on basic flagellum architecture. Trypanosoma brucei is a uniflagellated protozoan parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. The T. brucei flagellum is comprised of a 9+2 axoneme and an extra-axonemal paraflagellar rod (PFR), but the three-dimensional (3D) arrangement of the underlying structural units is poorly defined. Here, we use dual-axis electron tomography to determine the 3D architecture of the T. brucei flagellum. We define the T. brucei axonemal repeating unit. We observe direct connections between the PFR and axonemal dyneins, suggesting a mechanism by which mechanochemical signals may be transmitted from the PFR to axonemal dyneins. We find that the PFR itself is comprised of overlapping laths organized into distinct zones that are connected through twisting elements at the zonal interfaces. The overall structure has an underlying 57nm repeating unit. Biomechanical properties inferred from PFR structure lead us to propose that the PFR functions as a biomechanical spring that may store and transmit energy derived from axonemal beating. These findings provide insight into the structural foundations that underlie the distinctive flagellar waveform that is a hallmark of T. brucei cell motility.
Cilia and flagella are central to many biological processes in a diverse range of organisms. The kinetoplastid protozoa are very appealing models for the study of flagellar function, particularly in the light of the availability of extensive trypanosomatid genome information. In addition to the highly conserved 9 + 2 axoneme, the kinetoplastid flagellum contains a characteristic paraflagellar rod structure (PFR). The PFR is necessary for full motility and provides support for metabolic regulators that may influence flagellar beating. However, there is an intriguing puzzle: one clade of endosymbiont-containing kinetoplastids apparently lack a PFR yet are as motile as species that possess a PFR and are able to attach to the invertebrate host epithelia. We investigated how these organisms are able to locomote despite the apparent lack of PFR. Here we have identified a PFR1 gene in the endosymbiont-bearing trypanosome Crithidia deanei. This gene is expressed in C. deanei and is able to partially complement a pfr1 null mutation in Leishmania mexicana cells, demonstrating that the encoded protein is functional. Careful reexamination of C. deanei flagellar ultrastructure revealed a greatly reduced PFR missed by many previous analyses. This affirms the PFR as a canonical organelle of kinetoplastids. Moreover, although PFR proteins have been conserved in evolution, primary sequence differences contribute to particular PFR morphotypes characteristic of different kinetoplastid species.
RNA silencing processes are widespread in almost all eukaryotic organisms. They have various functions including genome protection, and the control of gene expression, development and heterochromatin formation. RNA interference (RNAi) is the post-transcriptional destruction of RNA, which is mediated by a ribonucleoprotein complex that contains, among several components, RNA helicases and Argonaute proteins. RNAi is functional in trypanosomes, protozoan parasites that separated very early from the main eukaryotic lineage and exhibit several intriguing features in terms of the control of gene expression. In this report, we investigated the functions of RNAi in Trypanosoma brucei.
By searching through genome databases, novel Argonaute-like proteins were identified in several protozoa that belong to the kinetoplastid order, a group of organisms that diverged early from the main eukaryotic lineage. T. brucei possesses two Argonaute-like genes termed TbAGO1 and TbPWI1. Dual transient transfection assays suggest that TbAGO1, but not TbPWI1, is involved in RNAi. The entire coding region of TbAGO1 was deleted by double gene knockout. TbAGO1-/- cells turned out to be completely resistant to RNAi generated either by transfected double-stranded RNA or by expression of an inverted repeat. TbAGO1-/- cells were viable but showed a dramatically reduced growth rate. This was probably due to defects in mitosis and abnormal chromosome segregation as revealed by in situ analysis. The RNAi and growth phenotypes were complemented by the inducible expression of a GFP::TbAGO1 fusion protein that revealed the cytoplasmic location of the protein.
The requirement of TbAGO1 for RNAi in trypanosomes demonstrates the evolutionary ancient involvement of Argonaute proteins in RNAi silencing processes. RNAi-deficient TbAGO1-/- cells showed numerous defects in chromosome segregation and mitotic spindle assembly. We propose a working hypothesis in which RNAi would be involved in heterochromatin formation at the centromere and therefore in chromosome segregation.
Introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into some cells or organisms results in degradation of its homologous mRNA, a process called RNA interference (RNAi). The dsRNAs are processed into short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that subsequently bind to the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), causing degradation of target mRNAs. Because of this sequence-specific ability to silence target genes, RNAi has been extensively used to study gene functions and has the potential to control disease pathogens or vectors. With this promise of RNAi to control pathogens and vectors, this paper reviews the current status of RNAi in protozoans, animal parasitic helminths and disease-transmitting vectors, such as insects. Many pathogens and vectors cause severe parasitic diseases in tropical regions and it is difficult to control once the host has been invaded. Intracellularly, RNAi can be highly effective in impeding parasitic development and proliferation within the host. To fully realize its potential as a means to control tropical diseases, appropriate delivery methods for RNAi should be developed, and possible off-target effects should be minimized for specific gene suppression. RNAi can also be utilized to reduce vector competence to interfere with disease transmission, as genes critical for pathogenesis of tropical diseases are knockdowned via RNAi.
RNAi; Parasitic protozoa; Helminth; Insect vector
The Leishmania mexicana PFR2 locus encodes a component of the paraflagellar rod (PFR), a flagellar structure found only in the insect stage of the life cycle. PFR2 mRNA levels are 10-fold lower in the mammalian stage than in the insect stage. Nuclear run-on experiments indicate that the change in PFR2 mRNA abundance is achieved posttranscriptionally. Deletion and block substitution analysis of the entire 1,400-nucleotide 3′ untranslated region (UTR) of PFR2C led to the identification of a regulatory element contained within 10 nucleotides of the 3′ UTR, termed the PFR regulatory element (PRE), that is necessary for the 10-fold regulation of PFR2 mRNA levels. Comparison of the half-lives of PFR2 transcripts, identical except for the presence or absence of the PRE, revealed that the PRE acts by destabilizing the PFR2 mRNA in amastigotes. The PRE was inserted into a construct which directs the constitutive expression of a chimeric PFR2 transcript. Insertion of the PRE resulted in regulated expression of this transcript, demonstrating that the regulatory element is sufficient for promastigote-specific expression. Since the PRE is present in the 3′ UTR of all L. mexicana PFR genes examined so far, we propose that it serves a means of coordinating expression of PFR genes.
We have conducted a protein interaction study of components within a specific sub-compartment of a eukaryotic flagellum. The trypanosome flagellum contains a para-crystalline extra-axonemal structure termed the paraflagellar rod (PFR) with around forty identified components. We have used a Gateway cloning approach coupled with yeast two-hybrid, RNAi and 2D DiGE to define a protein-protein interaction network taking place in this structure. We define two clusters of interactions; the first being characterised by two proteins with a shared domain which is not sufficient for maintaining the interaction. The other cohort is populated by eight proteins, a number of which possess a PFR domain and sub-populations of this network exhibit dependency relationships. Finally, we provide clues as to the structural organisation of the PFR at the molecular level. This multi-strand approach shows that protein interactome data can be generated for insoluble protein complexes.
RNA interference is a post transcriptional gene silencing mechanism that is triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Various attributes of the 3′ end structure, including overhang length and sequence composition, plays a primary role in determining the position of the Dicer cleavage in both dsRNA and unimolecular, short hairpin RNA (shRNA). The specificity and robustness of RNAi have triggered an immense interest in using RNAi as a tool in various settings. RNAi is a mechanism for controlling normal gene expression which has recently began to be employed as a potential therapeutic agent for a wide range of disorders, including cancer, infectious diseases and metabolic disorders. Clinical trials with RNAi have now begin, but major obstacles, such as off-target effects, toxicity and unsafe delivery methods, have to be overcome before RNAi can be considered as a conventional drug. It is also used as a tool to improve crops by providing resistance against parasites and modified versions of siRNA that are directed against disease causing genes are being developed, some of which are already tested in clinical trials. In this paper, we first reviewed the RNAi mechanism and then focussed on some of its applications in biomedical research such as treatment for HIV, viral hepatitis and several other diseases.
SiRNAs, small interfering RNAs; RISC, RNA induced silencing complex; MiRNAs, microRNAs; RNAi; Gene silencing; Antiviral; Dicer
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional pathway in which double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggers the degradation of complementary mRNA in the cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells. In plants and in some animals, including Caenorhabditis elegans, initiation of RNAi in one cell can lead to sequence-specific RNA silencing in another cell, a phenomenon referred to as non-cell-autonomous RNAi. Until recently, this phenomenon had not been observed in mammalian cells. Here, we review emerging data demonstrating that non-cell-autonomous RNAi occurs in cultured mammalian cells. We discuss possible mechanisms for the transfer of RNAi between mammalian cells and highlight the implications of this phenomenon for the development of in vivo cell-based RNAi delivery.
RNAi; siRNA; miRNA; non-cell-autonomous RNAi; systemic RNAi; RNAi delivery; cell-based delivery
RNA interference (RNAi) is a regulatory gene silencing system found in nearly all eukaryotic organisms that employs small RNAs, typically 20–25 nucleotides long, to target complementary sequences found in mRNAs. RNA helicases use ATP to unwind double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), and are known to participate at nearly every level of RNA metabolism. A multitude of RNA helicases have been isolated from screens for essential RNAi factors, and even the earliest models of the RNAi pathway have presumed an RNA helicase to function at the level of small RNA duplex unwinding. However, while many components that function in RNAi have been uncovered and characterized, the exact placement in the pathway and ascription of a specific biochemical function of an RNA helicase in RNAi remains elusive. Recent studies have delved deeper into the precise role of some RNA helicases. Surprisingly, these studies have revealed nontraditional roles, which may not even require the helicase activity. Such findings suggest that RNA helicases regulate gene silencing at nearly every level of the RNAi pathways.
gene silencing; RNA helicase; RNAi; small RNAs; unwind
The flagellum of Trypanosoma brucei is an essential and multifunctional organelle that is receiving increasing attention as a potential drug target and as a system for studying flagellum biology. RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown is widely used to test the requirement for a protein in flagellar motility and has suggested that normal flagellar motility is essential for viability in bloodstream-form trypanosomes. However, RNAi knockdown alone provides limited functional information because the consequence is often loss of a multiprotein complex. We therefore developed an inducible system that allows functional analysis of point mutations in flagellar proteins in T. brucei. Using this system, we identified point mutations in the outer dynein light chain 1 (LC1) that allow stable assembly of outer dynein motors but do not support propulsive motility. In procyclic-form trypanosomes, the phenotype of LC1 mutants with point mutations differs from the motility and structural defects of LC1 knockdowns, which lack the outer-arm dynein motor. Thus, our results distinguish LC1-specific functions from broader functions of outer-arm dynein. In bloodstream-form trypanosomes, LC1 knockdown blocks cell division and is lethal. In contrast, LC1 point mutations cause severe motility defects without affecting viability, indicating that the lethal phenotype of LC1 RNAi knockdown is not due to defective motility. Our results demonstrate for the first time that normal motility is not essential in bloodstream-form T. brucei and that the presumed connection between motility and viability is more complex than might be interpreted from knockdown studies alone. These findings open new avenues for dissecting mechanisms of flagellar protein function and provide an important step in efforts to exploit the potential of the flagellum as a therapeutic target in African sleeping sickness.
RNA silencing or interference (RNAi) is a gene regulation mechanism in eukaryotes that controls cell differentiation and developmental processes via expression of microRNAs. RNAi also serves as an innate antiviral defence response in plants, nematodes, and insects. This antiviral response is triggered by virus-specific double-stranded RNA molecules (dsRNAs) that are produced during infection. To overcome antiviral RNAi responses, many plant and insect viruses encode RNA silencing suppressors (RSSs) that enable them to replicate at higher titers. Recently, several human viruses were shown to encode RSSs, suggesting that RNAi also serves as an innate defence response in mammals. Here, we demonstrate that the Ebola virus VP35 protein is a suppressor of RNAi in mammalian cells and that its RSS activity is functionally equivalent to that of the HIV-1 Tat protein. We show that VP35 can replace HIV-1 Tat and thereby support the replication of a Tat-minus HIV-1 variant. The VP35 dsRNA-binding domain is required for this RSS activity. Vaccinia virus E3L protein and influenza A virus NS1 protein are also capable of replacing the HIV-1 Tat RSS function. These findings support the hypothesis that RNAi is part of the innate antiviral response in mammalian cells. Moreover, the results indicate that RSSs play a critical role in mammalian virus replication.
Cells have evolved mechanisms to protect themselves from virus infection. A well-known antiviral mechanism in mammals is the interferon (IFN) response of the innate immune system. In plants, insects, and worms, RNA silencing or RNA interference (RNAi) is a strong antiviral defence mechanism. It is still debated whether RNAi is also used as an antiviral mechanism in mammals. Many mammalian viruses encode essential factors that suppress the innate antiviral responses of the host. Such innate immunity suppressor proteins, or IFN antagonists, have recently been reported to also suppress RNAi in mammalian cells. We now demonstrate that the Ebola virus VP35 protein, a known IFN antagonist, suppresses RNAi in human cells. In addition, VP35 restores the production of an HIV-1 variant with a defective RNAi suppressor Tat protein. These results indicate that RNAi is part of the innate antiviral defence response in mammals and that viruses need to counteract this response in order to replicate. Whereas RNAi and INF act in concert to prevent the infection of mammalian cells, the invading viruses encode a protein that counteracts both defence mechanisms.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a highly specific gene-silencing phenomenon triggered by dsRNA1. This silencing mechanism uses two major classes of RNA regulators: microRNAs, which are produced from non-protein coding genes and short interfering RNAs (siRNAs). Plants use RNAi to control transposons and to exert tight control over developmental processes such as flower organ formation and leaf development2,3,4. Plants also use RNAi to defend themselves against infection by viruses. Consequently, many viruses have evolved suppressors of gene silencing to allow their successful colonization of their host5.
Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) is a method that takes advantage of the plant RNAi-mediated antiviral defense mechanism. In plants infected with unmodified viruses the mechanism is specifically targeted against the viral genome. However, with virus vectors carrying sequences derived from host genes, the process can be additionally targeted against the corresponding host mRNAs. VIGS has been adapted for high-throughput functional genomics in plants by using the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens to deliver, via its Ti plasmid, a recombinant virus carrying the entire or part of the gene sequence targeted for silencing. Systemic virus spread and the endogenous plant RNAi machinery take care of the rest. dsRNAs corresponding to the target gene are produced and then cleaved by the ribonuclease Dicer into siRNAs of 21 to 24 nucleotides in length. These siRNAs ultimately guide the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) to degrade the target transcript2.
Different vectors have been employed in VIGS and one of the most frequently used is based on tobacco rattle virus (TRV). TRV is a bipartite virus and, as such, two different A. tumefaciens strains are used for VIGS. One carries pTRV1, which encodes the replication and movement viral functions while the other, pTRV2, harbors the coat protein and the sequence used for VIGS6,7. Inoculation of Nicotiana benthamiana and tomato seedlings with a mixture of both strains results in gene silencing. Silencing of the endogenous phytoene desaturase (PDS) gene, which causes photobleaching, is used as a control for VIGS efficiency. It should be noted, however, that silencing in tomato is usually less efficient than in N. benthamiana. RNA transcript abundance of the gene of interest should always be measured to ensure that the target gene has efficiently been down-regulated. Nevertheless, heterologous gene sequences from N. benthamiana can be used to silence their respective orthologs in tomato and vice versa8.
Heritable RNA interference (RNAi), triggered from stably expressed transgenes with an inverted repeat (IR) configuration, is an important tool for reverse genetic studies. Here we report on the development of stable RNAi in Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, the major vector of human malaria in Asia. Trans genic mosquitoes stably expressing a RNAi transgene, designed to produce intron-spliced double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) targeting the green fluorescent protein EGFP gene, were crossed to an EGFP-expressing target line. EGFP expression was dramatically reduced at both the protein and RNA levels. The levels of gene silencing depended upon the RNAi gene copy number and its site of integration. These results demonstrate that specific RNAi-mediated knockdown of gene function can be achieved with high efficiency in Anopheles. This will be invaluable to systematically unravel the function of Anopheles genes determining the vectorial capacity of the malaria parasite.
Specific mRNA degradation mediated by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) interference (RNAi) is a powerful way of suppressing gene expression in plants, nematodes, and fungal, insect, and protozoan systems. However, only a few cases of RNAi have been reported in mammalian systems. Here, we investigated the feasibility of the RNAi strategy in several mammalian cells by using the enhanced green fluorescent protein gene as a target, either by in situ production of dsRNA from transient transfection of a plasmid harboring a 547-bp inverted repeat or by direct transfection of dsRNA made by in vitro transcription. Several mammalian cells including differentiated embryonic stem (ES) cells did not exhibit specific RNAi in transient transfection. This long dsRNA, however, was capable of inducing a sequence-specific RNAi for the episomal and chromosomal target gene in undifferentiated ES cells. dsRNA at 8.3 nM decreased the cognate gene expression up to 70%. However, RNAi activity was not permanent because it was more pronounced in early time points and diminished 5 days after transfection. Thus, undifferentiated ES cells may lack the interferon response, similar to mouse embryos and oocytes. Regardless of their apparent RNAi activity, however, cytoplasmic extracts from mammalian cells produced a small RNA of 21 to 22 nucleotides from the long dsRNA. Our results suggest that mammalian cells may possess RNAi activity but nonspecific activation of the interferon response by longer dsRNA may mask the specific RNAi. The findings offer an opportunity to use dsRNA for inhibition of gene expression in ES cells to study differentiation.
In many eukaryotes, the introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into cells triggers the degradation of mRNAs through a posttranscriptional gene silencing mechanism called RNA interference or RNAi. In this study, we found that endogenous long-dsRNA was substantially more effective at producing interference than endogenous or exogenous short-dsRNA expression in Giardia lamblia. The effects of this interference were not evident in the highly expressed proteins tubulin or the stage-specific cyst wall protein 2. However, long-dsRNA caused potent and specific interference in the medium subunits of adaptins, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, and the exogenous GFP. Our results suggest that the ability of dsRNA antisense to inhibit the expression of these specific types of proteins is indicative of a gene-specific mechanism.
Expression of dsRNA complementary to small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) in Trypanosoma brucei results in snoRNA silencing, termed snoRNAi. Here, we demonstrate that snoRNAi requires the nuclear TbDCL2 protein, but not TbDCL1, which is involved in RNA interference (RNAi) in the cytoplasm. snoRNAi depends on Argonaute1 (Slicer), and on TbDCL2, suggesting that snoRNA dicing and slicing takes place in the nucleus, and further suggesting that AGO1 is active in nuclear silencing. snoRNAi was next utilized to elucidate the function of an abundant snoRNA, TB11Cs2C2 (92 nt), present in a cluster together with the spliced leader associated RNA (SLA1) and snR30, which are both H/ACA RNAs with special nuclear functions. Using AMT-UV cross-linking and RNaseH cleavage, we provide evidence for the interaction of TB11Cs2C2 with the small rRNAs, srRNA-2 and srRNA-6, which are part of the large subunit (LSU) rRNA. snoRNAi of TB11Cs2C2 resulted in defects in generating srRNA-2 and LSUβ rRNA. This is the first snoRNA described so far to engage in trypanosome-specific processing events.
The paraflagellar rod (PFR) of the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei represents an excellent model to study flagellum assembly. The PFR is an intraflagellar structure present alongside the axoneme and is composed of two major proteins, PFRA and PFRC. By inducible expression of a functional epitope-tagged PFRA protein, we have been able to monitor PFR assembly in vivo. As T. brucei cells progress through their cell cycle, they possess both an old and a new flagellum. The induction of expression of tagged PFRA in trypanosomes growing a new flagellum provided an excellent marker of newly synthesized subunits. This procedure showed two different sites of addition: a major, polar site at the distal tip of the flagellum and a minor, nonpolar site along the length of the partially assembled PFR. Moreover, we have observed turnover of epitope-tagged PFRA in old flagella that takes place throughout the length of the PFR structure. Expression of truncated PFRA mutant proteins identified a sequence necessary for flagellum localization by import or binding. This sequence was not sufficient to confer full flagellum localization to a green fluorescent protein reporter. A second sequence, necessary for the addition of PFRA protein to the distal tip, was also identified. In the absence of this sequence, the mutant PFRA proteins were localized both in the cytosol and in the flagellum where they could still be added along the length of the PFR. This seven-amino-acid sequence is conserved in all PFRA and PFRC proteins and shows homology to a sequence in the flagellar dynein heavy chain of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
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.
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.
When recognized by the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) produced in eukaryotic cells results in posttranscriptional gene silencing. In addition, dsRNA can trigger the interferon response as part of the immune response in vertebrates. In this study, we show that dsRNA, but not short interfering RNA (siRNA), induces the expression of qde-2 (an Argonaute gene) and dcl-2 (a Dicer gene), two central components of the RNAi pathway in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. The induction of QDE-2 by dsRNA is required for normal gene silencing, indicating that this is a regulatory mechanism that allows the optimal function of the RNAi pathway. In addition, we demonstrate that Dicer proteins (DCLs) regulate QDE-2 posttranscriptionally, suggesting a role for DCLs or siRNA in QDE-2 accumulation. Finally, a genome-wide search revealed that additional RNAi components and homologs of antiviral and interferon-stimulated genes are also dsRNA-activated genes in Neurospora. Together, our results suggest that the activation of the RNAi components is part of a broad ancient host defense response against viral and transposon infections.
RNA interference (RNAi) pathways are widespread in metaozoans but the genes required show variable occurrence or activity in eukaryotic microbes, including many pathogens. While some Leishmania lack RNAi activity and Argonaute or Dicer genes, we show that Leishmania braziliensis and other species within the Leishmania subgenus Viannia elaborate active RNAi machinery. Strong attenuation of expression from a variety of reporter and endogenous genes was seen. As expected, RNAi knockdowns of the sole Argonaute gene implicated this protein in RNAi. The potential for functional genetics was established by testing RNAi knockdown lines lacking the paraflagellar rod, a key component of the parasite flagellum. This sets the stage for the systematic manipulation of gene expression through RNAi in these predominantly diploid asexual organisms, and may also allow selective RNAi-based chemotherapy. Functional evolutionary surveys of RNAi genes established that RNAi activity was lost after the separation of the Leishmania subgenus Viannia from the remaining Leishmania species, a divergence associated with profound changes in the parasite infectious cycle and virulence. The genus Leishmania therefore offers an accessible system for testing hypothesis about forces that may select for the loss of RNAi during evolution, such as invasion by viruses, changes in genome plasticity mediated by transposable elements and gene amplification (including those mediating drug resistance), and/or alterations in parasite virulence.
RNAi interference pathways play fundamental roles in eukaryotes and provide important methods for the analysis of gene function. Occasionally RNAi has been lost, precluding its use as a tool, as well as raising the question of what forces could lead to loss of such a key pathway. Genomic and functional studies previously showed that within trypanosomatids protozoans RNAi was absent in both Leishmania major and Trypanosoma cruzi. The genome of L. braziliensis, a member of the early diverging Leishmania subgenus Viannia, retained key genes required for RNAi such as an Argonaute. We demonstrated that in fact L. braziliensis shows strong RNAi activity with reporter and endogenous genes affecting flagellar function. These data suggest that RNAi may be productively applied for functional genomic studies in L. braziliensis. We mapped the evolutionary point at which RNAi was lost in lineage leading to Leishmania and Crithidia, and establish that RNAi must have been lost at least twice in the trypanosomatids, once on the lineage leading to T. cruzi and independently following the divergence of the Viannia subgenus from other Leishmania species. Lastly, we discuss hypotheses concerning the forces leading to the loss of RNAi in Leishmania evolution, including viral invasion, increased genome plasticity, and altered virulence.