MicroRNAs are single-stranded RNA molecules with a length of 19–25 nucleotides, which play roles in various biological phenomena, including development, differentiation, apoptosis, by regulating target gene expression. Although the presence of microRNA molecules in sea urchin and the expression of genes involved in microRNA biogenesis during sea urchin development have been reported recently, the function of microRNA in sea urchin development remains to be elucidated. In this study, to understand the function of microRNA in the early development of sea urchin, we focused on Dicer, an essential enzyme for biosynthesis of mature microRNA. We determined the nucleotide sequence of cDNA for a Dicer homolog in the sea urchin, Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus, HpDcr, and found that functional domains of Dicer proteins are conserved in HpDcr. Analyses of its pattern of expression showed that HpDcr mRNA is expressed in embryos at all developmental stages analyzed, and seems to distribute asymmetrically at the morula and later stages. Knockdown of HpDcr resulted in anomalous morphogenesis, such as impairment of gastrulation and skeletogenesis at the mesenchyme blastula stage and later stages, and alteration of mRNA levels of cell type-specific genes. Thus, HpDcr plays important roles in morphogenesis in sea urchin embryos, suggesting that miRNA could be involved in the early development of sea urchin by regulating target gene expression.
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