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Dicer, an enzyme involved in microRNA (miRNA) maturation, is required for proper cell differentiation and embryogenesis in mammals. Recent evidence indicates that Dicer and miRNA may also regulate tumorigenesis. To better characterize the role of miRNA in primary cell growth, we generated Dicer-conditional mice. Ablation of Dicer and loss of mature miRNAs in embryonic fibroblasts up-regulated p19(Arf) and p53 levels, inhibited cell proliferation, and induced a premature senescence phenotype that was also observed in vivo after Dicer ablation in the developing limb and in adult skin. Furthermore, deletion of the Ink4a/Arf or p53 locus could rescue fibroblasts from premature senescence induced by Dicer ablation. Although levels of Ras and Myc oncoproteins appeared unaltered, loss of Dicer resulted in increased DNA damage and p53 activity in these cells. These results reveal that loss of miRNA biogenesis activates a DNA damage checkpoint, up-regulates p19(Arf)-p53 signaling, and induces senescence in primary cells.
Pseudogenes populate the mammalian genome as remnants of artefactual incorporation of coding messenger RNAs into transposon pathways. Here we show that a subset of pseudogenes generates endogenous small interfering RNAs (endo-siRNAs) in mouse oocytes. These endo-siRNAs are often processed from double-stranded RNAs formed by hybridization of spliced transcripts from protein-coding genes to antisense transcripts from homologous pseudogenes. An inverted repeat pseudogene can also generate abundant small RNAs directly. A second class of endo-siRNAs may enforce repression of mobile genetic elements, acting together with Piwi-interacting RNAs. Loss of Dicer, a protein integral to small RNA production, increases expression of endo-siRNA targets, demonstrating their regulatory activity. Our findings indicate a function for pseudogenes in regulating gene expression by means of the RNA interference pathway and may, in part, explain the evolutionary pressure to conserve argonaute-mediated catalysis in mammals.
Dicer initiates RNA interference by generating small RNAs involved in various silencing pathways. Dicer participates in centromeric silencing, but its role in the epigenetic regulation of other chromatin domains has not been explored. Here we show that Dicer1 deficiency in Mus musculus leads to decreased DNA methylation, concomitant with increased telomere recombination and telomere elongation. These DNA-methylation defects correlate with decreased expression of Dnmt1, Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b DNA methyltransferases (Dnmts), and methylation levels can be recovered by their overexpression. We identify the retinoblastoma-like 2 protein (Rbl2) as responsible for decreased Dnmt expression in Dicer1-null cells, suggesting the existence of Dicer-dependent small RNAs that target Rbl2. We identify the miR-290 cluster as being downregulated in Dicer1-deficient cells and show that it silences Rbl2, thereby controlling Dnmt expression. These results identify a pathway by which miR-290 directly regulates Rbl2-dependent Dnmt expression, indirectly affecting telomere-length homeostasis.
The discovery that microRNAs (miRNAs) play important roles in regulating gene expression via posttranscriptional repression has revealed a previously unsuspected mechanism controlling development and progenitor-cell function (reviewed in ); however, little is known of miRNA functions in mammalian organogenesis. Processing of miRNAs and their assembly into the RNA-induced silencing (RISC) complex requires the essential multifunctional enzyme Dicer . We found that Dicer mRNA and multiple miRNAs are expressed in mouse skin, suggesting roles in skin- and hair-follicle biology. In newborn mice carrying an epidermal-specific Dicer deletion, hair follicles were stunted and hypoproliferative. Hair-shaft and inner-root-sheath differentiation was initiated, but the mutant hair follicles were misoriented and expression of the key signaling molecules Shh and Notch1 was lost by postnatal day 7. At this stage, hair-follicle dermal papillae were observed to evaginate, forming highly unusual structures within the basal epidermis. Normal hair shafts were not produced in the Dicer mutant, and the follicles lacked stem cell markers and degenerated. In contrast to decreased follicular proliferation, the epidermis became hyperproliferative. These results reveal critical roles for Dicer in the skin and implicate miRNAs in key aspects of epidermal and hair-follicle development and function.