15 January 2016
PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are emerging players in cancer genomics. Originally described in the germline, there are over 20,000 piRNA genes in the human genome. In contrast to microRNAs, piRNAs interact with PIWI proteins, another member of the Argonaute family, and function primarily in the nucleus. There, they are involved in the epigenetic silencing of transposable elements in addition to the transcriptional regulation of genes. It has recently been demonstrated that piRNAs are also expressed across a variety of human somatic tissue types in a tissue-specific manner. An increasing number of studies have shown that aberrant piRNA expression is a signature feature across multiple tumour types; however, their specific tumorigenic functions remain unclear. In this article, we discuss the emerging functional roles of piRNAs in a variety of cancers, and highlight their potential clinical utilities.