Molecular brain

Novel function of PIWIL1 in neuronal polarization and migration via regulation of microtubule-associated proteins.

PMID 26104391


Young neurons in the developing brain establish a polarized morphology for proper migration. The PIWI family of piRNA processing proteins are considered to be restrictively expressed in germline tissues and several types of cancer cells. They play important roles in spermatogenesis, stem cell maintenance, piRNA biogenesis, and transposon silencing. Interestingly a recent study showed that de novo mutations of PIWI family members are strongly associated with autism. Here, we report that PIWI-like 1 (PIWIL1), a PIWI family member known to be essential for the transition of round spermatid into elongated spermatid, plays a role in the polarization and radial migration of newborn neurons in the developing cerebral cortex. Knocking down PIWIL1 in newborn cortical neurons by in utero electroporation of specific siRNAs resulted in retardation of the transition of neurons from the multipolar stage to the bipolar stage followed by a defect in their radial migration to the proper destination. Domain analysis showed that both the RNA binding PAZ domain and the RNA processing PIWI domain in PIWIL1 were indispensable for its function in neuronal migration. Furthermore, we found that PIWIL1 unexpectedly regulates the expression of microtubule-associated proteins in cortical neurons. PIWIL1 regulates neuronal polarization and radial migration partly via modulating the expression of microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs). Our finding of PIWIL1's function in neuronal development implies conserved functions of molecules participating in morphogenesis of brain and germline tissue and provides a mechanism as to how mutations of PIWI may be associated with autism.