Distinct and overlapping roles for two Dicer-like proteins in the RNA interference pathways of the ancient eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei.
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Trypanosoma brucei is one of the most ancient eukaryotes where RNA interference (RNAi) is operational and is the only single-cell pathogen where RNAi has been extensively studied and used as a tool for functional analyses. Here, we report that the T. brucei RNAi pathway, although relying on a single Argonaute protein (AGO1), is initiated by the activities of two distinct Dicer-like enzymes. Both TbDCL1, a mostly cytoplasmic protein, and the previously undescribed nuclear enzyme TbDCL2 contribute to the biogenesis of siRNAs from retroposons. However, TbDCL2 has a predominant role in generating siRNAs from chromosomal internal repeat transcripts that accumulate at the nucleolus in RNAi-deficient cells and in initiating the endogenous RNAi response against retroposons and repeats alike. Moreover, siRNAs generated by both TbDCL1 and TbDCL2 carry a 5'-monophosphate and a blocked 3' terminus, suggesting that 3' end modification is an ancient trait of siRNAs. We thus propose a model whereby TbDCL2 fuels the T. brucei nuclear RNAi pathway and TbDCL1 patrols the cytoplasm, posttranscriptionally silencing potentially harmful nucleic acid parasites that may access the cytoplasm. Nevertheless, we also provide evidence for cross-talk between the two Dicer-like enzymes, because TbDCL2 is implicated in the generation of 35- to 65-nucleotide intermediate transcripts that appear to be substrates for TbDCL1. Our finding that dcl2KO cells are more sensitive to RNAi triggers than wild-type cells has significant implications for reverse genetic analyses in this important human pathogen.