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Mechanisms of Transposable Element Repression by Piwi Proteins in the piRNA Pathway of Drosophila Germ Cells


Webster, Alexandre (2015) Mechanisms of Transposable Element Repression by Piwi Proteins in the piRNA Pathway of Drosophila Germ Cells. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9WQ01RS.

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The ability to reproduce is a defining characteristic of all living organisms. During reproduction, the integrity of genetic material transferred from one generation to the next is of utmost importance. Organisms have diverse strategies to ensure the fidelity of genomic information inherited between generations of individuals. In sexually reproducing animals, the piRNA pathway is an RNA-interference (RNAi) mechanism that protects the genomes of germ cells from the replication of ‘selfish’ genetic sequences called transposable elements (TE). When left unabated, the replication of TE sequences can cause gene disruption, double-stranded DNA breaks, and germ cell death that results in sterility of the organism. In Drosophila, the piRNA pathway is divided into a cytoplasmic and nuclear branch that involves the functions of three Piwi-clade Argonaute proteins—Piwi, Aubergine (Aub) and Argonaute-3 (Ago3)—which bind piwi-interacting RNA (piRNA) to form the effector complexes that represses deleterious TE sequences.

The work presented in this thesis examines the function and regulation of Piwi proteins in Drosophila germ cells. Chapter 1 presents an introduction to piRNA biogenesis and to the essential roles occupied by each Piwi protein in the repression of TE. We discuss the architecture and function of germ granules as the cellular compartments where much of the piRNA pathway operates. In Chapter 2, we present how Piwi in the nucleus co-transcriptionally targets genomic loci expressing TE sequences to direct the deposition of repressive chromatin marks. Chapter 3 examines the cytoplasmic function of the piRNA pathway, where we find that the protein Krimper coordinates Aub and Ago3 in the piRNA ping-pong pathway to adaptively target and destroy TE transcripts. Chapter 4 explores how interactions of Piwis with associated proteins are modulated by arginine methylation modifications. Lastly, in Chapter 5 I present evidence that the cytoplasmic branch of the piRNA pathway can potentially ‘cross-talk’ with the nuclear branch to transfer sequence information to better target and co-transcriptionally silence the genomic loci coding active TE sequences. Overall, the work presented in this thesis constitutes a part of the first steps in understanding the molecular mechanisms that protect germ cells from invasion by TE sequences.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:piRNA, Transposable Elements, Germ Cells, Drosophila, small RNA, Piwi, Argonaute
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Biology and Biological Engineering
Major Option:Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Aravin, Alexei A.
Thesis Committee:
  • Sternberg, Paul W. (chair)
  • Hay, Bruce A.
  • Shan, Shu-ou
  • Baltimore, David L.
  • Aravin, Alexei A.
Defense Date:28 April 2015
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05112015-230250866
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle adapted for ch. 2
Webster, Alexandre0000-0002-1416-5872
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8857
Deposited By: Alexandre Webster
Deposited On:26 May 2015 18:07
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:09

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