PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are a class of small RNAs that are 24–31 nucleotides in length. They associate with PIWI proteins, which constitute a germline-specific subclade of the Argonaute family, to form effector complexes known as piRNA-induced silencing complexes, which repress transposons via transcriptional or posttranscriptional mechanisms and maintain germline genome integrity. In addition to having a role in transposon silencing, piRNAs in diverse organisms function in the regulation of cellular genes. In some cases, piRNAs have shown transgenerational inheritance to pass on the memory of “self” and “nonself,” suggesting a contribution to various cellular processes over generations. Many piRNA factors have been identified; however, both the molecular mechanisms leading to the production of mature piRNAs and the effector phases of gene silencing are still enigmatic. Here, we summarize the current state of our knowledge on the biogenesis of piRNA, its biological functions, and the underlying mechanisms.


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