Two modes of targeting transposable elements by piRNA pathway in human testis
PIWI proteins and their partner small RNAs, termed piRNAs, are known to control transposable elements (TEs) in the germline. Here, we provide evidence that in humans this control is exerted in two different modes. On the one hand, production of piRNAs specifically targeting evolutionarily youngest TEs (L1HS, L1PA2-L1PA6, LTR12C, SVA) is present both at prenatal and postnatal stages of spermatogenesis and is performed without involvement of piRNA clusters. On the other hand, at postnatal stages, piRNAs deriving from pachytene clusters target “older” TEs and thus complement cluster-independent piRNA production to achieve relevant targeting of virtually all TEs expressed in postnatal testis. We also find that converging transcription of antisense-oriented genes contributes to the origin of genic postnatal prepachytene clusters. Finally, while a fraction of pachytene piRNAs was previously shown to arise from long intergenic noncoding RNAs (lincRNAs, i.e., pachytene piRNA cluster primary transcripts), we ascertain that these are a specific set of lincRNAs that both possess distinguishing epigenetic features and are expressed exclusively in testis.