Abstract: Small RNA pathways play diverse regulatory roles in the nematode C. elegans. However, our understanding of small RNA pathways, their conservation, and their roles in other nematodes is limited. Here, we analyzed small RNA pathways in the parasitic nematode Ascaris. Ascaris has ten Argonautes with five worm-specific Argonautes (WAGOs) that are associated with secondary 59-triphosphate small RNAs (22-24G-RNAs). These Ascaris WAGOs and their small RNAs target repetitive sequences (WAGO-1, WAGO-2, WAGO-3, and NRDE-3) or mature mRNAs (CSR-1, NRDE-3, and WAGO-3) and are similar to the C. elegans mutator, nuclear, and CSR-1 small RNA pathways. Ascaris CSR-1 likely functions to "license" gene expression in the absence of an Ascaris piRNA pathway. Ascaris ALG-4 and its associated 26G-RNAs target and appear to repress specific mRNAs during meiosis in the testes. Notably, Ascaris WAGOs (WAGO-3 and NRDE-3) small RNAs change their targets between repetitive sequences and mRNAs during spermatogenesis or in early embryos illustrating target plasticity of these WAGOs. We provide a unique and comprehensive view of mRNA and small RNA expression throughout nematode spermatogenesis that illustrates the dynamics and flexibility of small RNA pathways. Overall, our study provides key insights into the conservation and divergence of nematode small RNA pathways.
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