UMMS Affiliation

RNA Therapeutics Institute

Publication Date


Document Type



Developmental Biology | Genetics and Genomics | Nucleic Acids, Nucleotides, and Nucleosides


In several species, Piwi/piRNA genome silencing defects cause immediate sterility that correlates with transposon expression and transposon-induced genomic instability. In C. elegans, mutations in the Piwi-related gene (prg-1) and other piRNA deficient mutants cause a transgenerational decline in fertility over a period of several generations. Here we show that the sterility of late generation piRNA mutants correlates poorly with increases in DNA damage signaling. Instead, sterile individuals consistently exhibit altered perinuclear germ granules. We show that disruption of germ granules does not activate transposon expression but induces multiple phenotypes found in sterile prg-1 pathway mutants. Furthermore, loss of the germ granule component pgl-1 enhances prg-1 mutant infertility. Environmental restoration of germ granule function for sterile pgl-1 mutants restores their fertility. We propose that Piwi mutant sterility is a reproductive arrest phenotype that is characterized by perturbed germ granule structure and is phenocopied by germ granule dysfunction, independent of genomic instability.


Epigenetic memory, Germline development, Gene regulation, Piwi RNAs

Rights and Permissions

Copyright © The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit

DOI of Published Version



Spichal M, Heestand B, Billmyre KK, Frenk S, Mello CC, Ahmed S. Germ granule dysfunction is a hallmark and mirror of Piwi mutant sterility. Nat Commun. 2021 Mar 3;12(1):1420. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-21635-0. PMID: 33658512; PMCID: PMC7930041. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Nature communications

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.