Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


RNA Therapeutics Institute

First Thesis Advisor

Phillip D. Zamore, Ph.D.


Drosophila Proteins, RNA, Small Interfering, MicroRNAs, RNA Helicases, Ribonuclease III, Substrate Specificity


Drosophila Dicer-2 generates small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) from long double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), whereas Dicer-1 produces microRNAs from premicroRNA. My thesis focuses on the functional characteristics of two Drosophila Dicers that makes them specific for their biological substrates. We found that RNA binding protein partners of Dicers and two small molecules, ATP and phosphate are key in regulating Drosophila Dicers’ specificity. Without any additional factor, recombinant Dicer-2 cleaves pre-miRNA, but its product is shorter than the authentic miRNA. However, the protein R2D2 and inorganic phosphate block pre-miRNA processing by Dicer-2. In contrast, Dicer-1 is inherently capable of processing the substrates of Dicer, long dsRNAs. Yet, partner protein of Dicer-1, Loqs-PB and ATP increase the efficiency of miRNA production from pre-miRNAs by Dicer-1, therefore enhance substrate specificity of Dicer-1. Our data highlight the role of ATP and regulatory dsRNA-binding partner proteins to achieve substrate specificity in Drosophila RNA silencing.

Our study also sheds light onto the function of the helicase domain in Drosophila Dicers. Although Dicer-1 doesn’t hydrolyze ATP, ATP enhances miRNA production by increasing Dicer-1’s substrate specificity through lowering its KM. On the other hand, Dicer-2 is a dsRNA-stimulated ATPase that hydrolyzes ATP to ADP, and ATP hydrolysis is required for Dicer-2 to process long dsRNA. Wild-type Dicer-2, but not a mutant defective in ATP hydrolysis, is processive; generating siRNAs faster than it can dissociate from a long dsRNA substrate. We propose that the Dicer-2 helicase domain uses ATP to generate many siRNAs from a single molecule of dsRNA before dissociating from its substrate.

Piwi-dependent small RNAs, namely piRNAs, are a third class of small RNAs that are distinct from miRNAs and siRNAs. Their primary function is to repress transposons in the animal germline. piRNAs are Dicer-independent, and require Piwi family proteins for their biogenesis and function. Recently in addition to their presence in animal germlines, the presence and function of piRNA-like RNAs in the somatic tissues have been suggested (Yan et al. 2011; Morazzani et al. 2012; Rajasethupathy et al. 2012). We have investigated whether the piRNA-like reads in our many Drosophila head libraries come from the germline as a contaminant or are soma-specific. Most of the piRNA reads in our published head libraries show high similarity to germline piRNAs. However, piRNA-like reads from manually dissected heads are distinct from germline piRNAs, proving the presence of somatic piRNA-like small RNAs. We are currently asking the question whether these distinct piRNA-like reads in the heads are dependent on the Piwi family proteins, like the germline piRNAs.



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