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In the male mouse germ line, PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), bound by the PIWI protein MIWI2 (PIWIL4), guide DNA methylation of young active transposons through SPOCD1. However, the underlying mechanisms of SPOCD1-mediated piRNA-directed transposon methylation and whether this pathway functions to protect the human germ line remain unknown. We identified loss-of-function variants in human SPOCD1 that cause defective transposon silencing and male infertility. Through the analysis of these pathogenic alleles, we discovered that the uncharacterized protein C19ORF84 interacts with SPOCD1. DNMT3C, the DNA methyltransferase responsible for transposon methylation, associates with SPOCD1 and C19ORF84 in fetal gonocytes. Furthermore, C19ORF84 is essential for piRNA-directed DNA methylation and male mouse fertility. Finally, C19ORF84 mediates the in vivo association of SPOCD1 with the de novo methylation machinery. In summary, we have discovered a conserved role for the human piRNA pathway in transposon silencing and C19ORF84, an uncharacterized protein essential for orchestrating piRNA-directed DNA methylation.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Cell

Publication Date





1021 - 1035.e11


DNA methylation, DNMT3C, PIWI, germline, human male fertility, piRNA, transposon, Male, Humans, Animals, Mice, DNA Methylation, Piwi-Interacting RNA, RNA, Small Interfering, Proteins, Germ Cells, Argonaute Proteins, DNA Transposable Elements, Mammals