A piwi homolog is required for the regulation of stem cells, formation and maintenance of germline stem cells, and gametogenesis in many metazoans. Planarians can change their reproductive mode seasonally, both asexually and sexually, and develop and maintain germ cells and sexual organs. They have many pluripotent stem cells (neoblasts) that can differentiate into both somatic and germline stem cells. Thus, we searched for a piwi subfamily in the planarian Dugesia ryukyuensis. Four piwi homologs, identified as Drpiwi-1, -2, -3, and -4, were expressed in sexually reproductive worms. We then selectively destroyed the neoblasts by irradiating the worms with X-rays. In such worms, Drpiwi-1, -2, and -3 were not expressed at all, whereas Drpiwi-4 was expressed to the same degree as that in non-irradiated controls, indicating that Drpiwi-1, -2, and -3, but not Drpiwi-4, are expressed in neoblasts. During the regeneration process, Drpiwi-2(RNAi) and -3(RNAi) worms failed to regenerate after ablation, but Drpiwi-1 and -4(RNAi) worms regenerated. During the sexualizing process, Drpiwi-1(RNAi) worms failed to develop ovaries and testes, but somatic sexual organs were unaffected. Germ cell development was normal in Drpiwi-4(RNAi) worms. Therefore, Drpiwi-2 and -3 may be related to the regulation of neoblasts important for maintaining homeostasis, and Drpiwi-1 is essential for the development of germ cells but not somatic sexual organs. DrPiwi-1 is localized in the cytoplasm of stem cells and germline cells and may be involved in regulating some gene expression. We suggest that planarian Piwi controls germline formation via RNA silencing mechanisms.
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