Assessment of piRNA biogenesis and function in testicular germ cell tumors and their precursor germ cell neoplasia in situ
Background: Aberrant overexpression of PIWI/piRNA pathway proteins is shown for many types of tumors. Interestingly, these proteins are downregulated in testicular germ cell tumors (TGCTs) compared to normal testis tissues. Here, we used germline and TGCT markers to assess the piRNA biogenesis and function in TGCTs and their precursor germ cell neoplasia in situ (GCNIS). Methods: We used small RNA deep sequencing, qRT-PCR, and mining public RNAseq/small RNA-seq datasets to examine PIWI/piRNA gene expression and piRNA biogenesis at four stages of TGCT development: (i) germ cells in healthy testis tissues, (ii) germ cells in testis tissues adjacent to TGCTs, (iii) GCNIS cells and (iv) TGCT cells. To this end, we studied three types of samples: (a) healthy testis, (b) testis tissues adjacent to two types of TGCTs (seminomas and nonseminomas) and containing both germ cells and GCNIS cells, as well as (c) matching TGCT samples. Results: Based on our analyses of small RNA-seq data as well as the presence/absence of expression correlation between PIWI/piRNA pathway genes and germline or TGCT markers, we can suggest that piRNA biogenesis is intact in germ cells present in healthy adult testes, and adjacent to TGCTs. Conversely, GCNIS and TGCT cells were found to lack PIWI/piRNA pathway gene expression and germline-like piRNA biogenesis. However, using an in vitro cell line model, we revealed a possible role for a short PIWIL2/HILI isoform expressed in TGCTs in posttranscriptional regulation of the youngest members of LINE and SINE classes of transposable elements. Importantly, this regulation is also implemented without involvement of germline-like biogenesis of piRNAs. Conclusions: Though further studies are warranted, these findings suggest that the conventional germline-like PIWI/piRNA pathway is lost in transition from germ cells to GCNIS cells.