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Genetics Society of America

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Posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression, typically effected by RNA-binding proteins, microRNAs (miRNAs), and translation initiation factors, is essential for normal germ cell function. Numerous miRNAs have been detected in the germline; however, the functions of specific miRNAs remain largely unknown. Functions of miRNAs have been difficult to determine as miRNAs often modestly repress target mRNAs and are suggested to sculpt or fine tune gene expression to allow for the robust expression of cell fates. In Caenorhabditis elegans hermaphrodites, cell fate decisions are made for germline sex determination during larval development when sperm are generated in a short window before the switch to oocyte production. Here, analysis of newly generated mir-44 family mutants has identified a family of miRNAs that modulate the germline sex determination pathway in C. elegans. Mutants with the loss of mir-44 and mir-45 produce fewer sperm, showing both a delay in the specification and formation of sperm as well as an early termination of sperm specification accompanied by a premature switch to oocyte production. mir-44 and mir-45 are necessary for the normal period of fog-1 expression in larval development. Through genetic analysis, we find that mir-44 and mir-45 may act upstream of fbf-1 and fem-3 to promote sperm specification. Our research indicates that the mir-44 family promotes sperm cell fate specification during larval development and identifies an additional posttranscriptional regulator of the germline sex determination pathway.


Accepted version. Genetics, Vol. 217, No. 1 (January 2021). DOI. © 2021 Genetics Society of America. Used with permission.

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