The methyltransferase HEN1 is required in Nematostella vectensis for microRNA and piRNA stability as well as larval metamorphosis

Vengamanaidu Modepalli*, Arie Fridrich, Maayan Agron, Yehu Moran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Small non-coding RNAs (sRNAs) such as microRNAs (miRNAs), small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) regulate the levels of endogenous, viral and transposable element RNA in plants (excluding piRNAs) and animals. These pathways are explored mainly in bilaterian animals, such as vertebrates, arthropods and nematodes, where siRNAs and piRNAs, but not miRNAs bind their targets with a perfect match and mediate the cleavage of the target RNA. Methylation of the 3′ ends of piRNAs and siRNAs by the methyltransferase HEN1 protects these sRNAs from degradation. There is a noticeable selection in bilaterian animals against miRNA-mRNA perfect matching, as it leads to the degradation of miRNAs. Cnidarians (sea anemones, corals, hydroids and jellyfish), are separated from bilaterians by more than 600 million years. As opposed to bilaterians, cnidarian miRNAs frequently bind their targets with a nearly perfect match. Knowing that an ortholog of HEN1 is widely expressed in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, we tested in this work whether it mediates the stabilization of its sRNAs. We show that the knockdown of HEN1 in Nematostella results in a developmental arrest. Small RNA sequencing revealed that the levels of both miRNAs and piRNAs drop dramatically in the morphant animals. Moreover, knockdown experiments of Nematostella Dicer1 and PIWI2, homologs of major bilaterian biogenesis components of miRNAs and piRNAs, respectively, resulted in developmental arrest similar to HEN1 morphants. Our findings suggest that HEN1 mediated methylation of sRNAs reflects the ancestral state, where miRNAs were also methylated. Thus, we provide the first evidence of a methylation mechanism that stabilizes miRNAs in animals, and highlight the importance of post-transcriptional regulation in non-bilaterian animals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere1007590
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Modepalli et al.


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