Recent evidence indicates that small RNAs participate in transcriptional regulation in addition to post-transcriptional silencing. Components of the RNAi machinery (ARGONAUTE1 (AGO1, EIF2C1), AGO2 (EIF2C2), AGO3 (EIF2C3), AGO4 (EIF2C4), TNRC6A, and DICER) are observed associated with microRNAs (miRNAs) in both the cytosol and the nucleus (Robb et al. 2005, Weinmann et al. 2009, Doyle et al. 2013, Nishi et al. 2013, Gagnon et al. 2014). The AGO:miRNA complexes are imported into the nucleus by IMPORTIN-8 (IPO8, IMP8, RANBP8) and also by an unknown importin while associated with the nuclear shuttling protein TNRC6A (reviewed in Schraivogel and Meister 2014).
Within the nucleus, AGO2, TNRC6A, and DICER may associate in a complex (Gagnon et al. 2014). Nuclear AGO1 and AGO2 in complexes with small RNAs are observed to activate transcription (RNA activation, RNAa) or repress transcription (Transcriptional Gene Silencing, TGS) of genes that contain sequences matching the small RNAs (reviewed in Malecova and Morris 2010, Huang and Li 2012, Gagnon and Corey 2012, Huang and Li 2014, Salmanidis et al. 2014, Stroynowska-Czerwinska et al. 2014). TGS is associated with methylation of cytosine in DNA and methylation of histone H3 at lysine-9 and lysine-27 (Castanotto et al. 2005, Suzuki et al. 2005, Kim et al. 2006, Weinberg et al. 2006, Kim et al. 2008, reviewed in Malecova and Morris 2010, Li et al. 2014); RNAa is associated with methylation of histone H3 at lysine-4 (Huang et al. 2012, reviewed in Li et al. 2014). Small RNAs in the nucleus have also been shown to play roles in alternative splicing (Liu et al., 2012, Ameyar-Zazoua et al., 2012) and DNA damage repair (Wei et al., 2012; Francia et al., 2012). Nevertheless, elucidation of the detailed mechanisms of small RNA action requires further research.