RNA-induced transcriptional silencing

RNA-induced transcriptional silencing

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RNA-induced transcriptional silencing (RITS) is a form of RNA interference
RNA interference
RNA interference is a process within living cells that moderates the activity of their genes. Historically, it was known by other names, including co-suppression, post transcriptional gene silencing , and quelling. Only after these apparently unrelated processes were fully understood did it become...

 by which short RNA
Ribonucleic acid , or RNA, is one of the three major macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life....

 molecules - such as small interfering RNA
Small interfering RNA
Small interfering RNA , sometimes known as short interfering RNA or silencing RNA, is a class of double-stranded RNA molecules, 20-25 nucleotides in length, that play a variety of roles in biology. The most notable role of siRNA is its involvement in the RNA interference pathway, where it...

 (siRNA) - trigger the downregulation of transcription
Transcription (genetics)
Transcription is the process of creating a complementary RNA copy of a sequence of DNA. Both RNA and DNA are nucleic acids, which use base pairs of nucleotides as a complementary language that can be converted back and forth from DNA to RNA by the action of the correct enzymes...

 of a particular gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 or genomic
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

 region. This is usually accomplished by posttranslational modification of histone
In biology, histones are highly alkaline proteins found in eukaryotic cell nuclei that package and order the DNA into structural units called nucleosomes. They are the chief protein components of chromatin, acting as spools around which DNA winds, and play a role in gene regulation...

 tails (e.g. methylation of lysine 9 of histone H3) which target the genomic region for heterochromatin
Heterochromatin is a tightly packed form of DNA, which comes in different varieties. These varieties lie on a continuum between the two extremes of constitutive and facultative heterochromatin...

 formation. The protein complex
Protein complex
A multiprotein complex is a group of two or more associated polypeptide chains. If the different polypeptide chains contain different protein domain, the resulting multiprotein complex can have multiple catalytic functions...

 that binds to siRNAs and interacts with the methylated lysine 9 residue of histones H3 is the RITS complex.

RITS was discovered in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe
Schizosaccharomyces pombe
Schizosaccharomyces pombe, also called "fission yeast", is a species of yeast. It is used as a model organism in molecular and cell biology. It is a unicellular eukaryote, whose cells are rod-shaped. Cells typically measure 3 to 4 micrometres in diameter and 7 to 14 micrometres in length...

, and has been shown to be involved in the initiation and spreading of heterochromatin in the mating-type region
Mating-type region
The mating-type region is a specialized region in the genomes of some yeast and other fungi, usually organized into heterochromatin and possessing unique histone methylation patterns. The genes in this region regulate the mating type of the organism and therefore determine key events in its life...

 and in centromere
A centromere is a region of DNA typically found near the middle of a chromosome where two identical sister chromatids come closest in contact. It is involved in cell division as the point of mitotic spindle attachment...

 formation. The RITS complex in S. pombe contains at least a piwi domain-containing RNase H
RNase H
The enzyme RNase H is a non-specific endonuclease and catalyzes the cleavage of RNA via a hydrolytic mechanism. Members of the RNase H family can be found in nearly all organisms, from archaea to bacteria and eukaryota....

-like argonaute
Argonaute proteins are the catalytic components of the RNA-induced silencing complex , the protein complex responsible for the gene silencing phenomenon known as RNA interference . Argonaute proteins bind different classes of small non-coding RNAs, including microRNAs , small interfering RNAs and...

, a chromodomain
A chromodomain is a protein structural domain of about 40-50 amino acid residues commonly found in proteins associated with the remodeling and manipulation of chromatin. The domain is highly conserved among both plants and animals, and is represented in a large number of different proteins in many...

 protein Chp1, and an argonaute interacting protein Tas3 which can also bind to Chp1, while heterochromatin formation has been shown to require at least argonaute and an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase , , or RNA replicase, is an enzyme that catalyzes the replication of RNA from an RNA template...

. Loss of these genes in S. pombe results in abnormal heterochromatin organization and formation of the chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

A centromere is a region of DNA typically found near the middle of a chromosome where two identical sister chromatids come closest in contact. It is involved in cell division as the point of mitotic spindle attachment...

s, resulting in slow or stalled anaphase
Anaphase, from the ancient Greek ἀνά and φάσις , is the stage of mitosis or meiosis when chromosomes move to opposite poles of the cell....

 during cell division
Cell division
Cell division is the process by which a parent cell divides into two or more daughter cells . Cell division is usually a small segment of a larger cell cycle. This type of cell division in eukaryotes is known as mitosis, and leaves the daughter cell capable of dividing again. The corresponding sort...


The maintenance of heterochromatin regions by RITS complexes has been described as a self-reinforcing feedback loop, in which RITS complexes stably bind the methylated histones of a heterochromatin region and induce co-transcriptional degradation of any nascent messenger RNA
Messenger RNA
Messenger RNA is a molecule of RNA encoding a chemical "blueprint" for a protein product. mRNA is transcribed from a DNA template, and carries coding information to the sites of protein synthesis: the ribosomes. Here, the nucleic acid polymer is translated into a polymer of amino acids: a protein...

 (mRNA) transcripts, which are then used as RNA-dependent RNA polymerase
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase , , or RNA replicase, is an enzyme that catalyzes the replication of RNA from an RNA template...

 substrates to replenish the complement of siRNA molecules. Heterochromatin formation, but possibly not maintenance, is dependent on the ribonuclease
Ribonuclease is a type of nuclease that catalyzes the degradation of RNA into smaller components. Ribonucleases can be divided into endoribonucleases and exoribonucleases, and comprise several sub-classes within the EC 2.7 and 3.1 classes of enzymes.-Function:All organisms studied contain...

 protein dicer
Dicer is an endoribonuclease in the RNase III family that cleaves double-stranded RNA and pre-microRNA into short double-stranded RNA fragments called small interfering RNA about 20-25 nucleotides long, usually with a two-base overhang on the 3' end...

, which is used to generate the initial complement of siRNAs.

The relevance of observations from fission yeast mating-type regions and centromeres to mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s is not clear, as some evidence suggests that heterochromatin maintenance in mammalian cells is independent of the components of the RNAi pathway.