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A small amoeba at the crossroads of the big RNAi world: MicroRNA biogenesis and Argonaute function in Dictyostelium discoideum

  • Datum:
  • Plats: B22, Uppsala Biomedicinska Centrum, Husargatan 3, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Liao, Zhen
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Mikrobiologi
  • Kontaktperson: Liao, Zhen
  • Disputation


Small non-coding RNA (ncRNA) mediated gene silencing, known as RNAi, is a key regulatory mechanism of gene expression in eukaryotes. MicroRNAs (miRNA), one major type of small ncRNAs, are about 21nt long and bound by Argonaute proteins. This RNA-protein complex, called RISC, silences post-transcriptionally target mRNAs containing partial or full complementary sequence to the miRNA.  

MiRNAs are generated from step-wise endonucleolytic cleavages of long primary transcripts (pri-miRNAs) by RNase III nucleases. Biogenesis of miRNAs differs between uni- and multicellular eukaryotes, and also between plants and animals. In this thesis, I aimed to understand miRNA maturation in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, which stands at the crossroads between these phylogenetically distant groups. We showed that Dicer-like protein DrnB is essential for global maturation of D. discoideum miRNAs. The study of two pri-miRNAs revealed the conserved 5’ m7G-cap structures, but different 3’end formation from each other, and also from canonical miRNAs in plants and animals. In agreement with its evolutionary position, D. discoideum miRNA biogenesis showed unique and also shared features with both life groups.

D. discoideum grows as a unicellular organism, but can switch to a multicellular development upon starvation. Most miRNAs, many other small ncRNAs, and Argonaute proteins, the core effectors of the RISC, are differentially expressed during development, indicative of a crucial role of RNAi mediated regulation throughout D. discoideum life cycle. Among the five Argonaute homologs in D. discoideum, I investigated the functions of three members, e.g. AgnB, C and E. Judging from their subcellular localization, the phenotypic consequences and transcriptional alteration resulting from single Argonaute gene deletion, our results suggested different roles of AgnB, C and E. Possibly AgnB associates with miRNAs and regulates gene expression post-transcriptionally; while AgnC seems to be involved in nuclear RNAi. Finally, the cytoplasmic AgnE inhibits D. discoideum cell growth and regulates developmental timing via an unknown mechanism.

My thesis work expands our knowledge on D. discoideum RNAi with focuses on miRNA biogenesis and potential function of Argonaute proteins and, all together, sheds lights on the evolution of miRNA and RNAi.