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In mammals, the acquisition of the germline from the soma provides the germline with an essential challenge: the need to erase and reset genomic methylation1. In the male germline, RNA-directed DNA methylation silences young, active transposable elements2-4. The PIWI protein MIWI2 (PIWIL4) and its associated PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) instruct DNA methylation of transposable elements3,5. piRNAs are proposed to tether MIWI2 to nascent transposable element transcripts; however, the mechanism by which MIWI2 directs the de novo methylation of transposable elements is poorly understood, although central to the immortality of the germline. Here we define the interactome of MIWI2 in mouse fetal gonocytes undergoing de novo genome methylation and identify a previously unknown MIWI2-associated factor, SPOCD1, that is essential for the methylation and silencing of young transposable elements. The loss of Spocd1 in mice results in male-specific infertility but does not affect either piRNA biogenesis or the localization of MIWI2 to the nucleus. SPOCD1 is a nuclear protein whose expression is restricted to the period of de novo genome methylation. It co-purifies in vivo with DNMT3L and DNMT3A, components of the de novo methylation machinery, as well as with constituents of the NURD and BAF chromatin remodelling complexes. We propose a model whereby tethering of MIWI2 to a nascent transposable element transcript recruits repressive chromatin remodelling activities and the de novo methylation apparatus through SPOCD1. In summary, we have identified a previously unrecognized and essential executor of mammalian piRNA-directed DNA methylation.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





635 - 639


Animals, Argonaute Proteins, Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly, DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases, DNA Methylation, DNA Methyltransferase 3A, DNA Transposable Elements, Female, Fertility, Gene Silencing, Genes, Intracisternal A-Particle, Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements, Male, Mice, RNA, Small Interfering, Spermatogenesis