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Bang-Hong Wei, Jia-Hao Ni, Tong Yang, Shuang-Li Hao, and Wan-Xi Yang

PIWI proteins play important roles in germline development in the mammals. However, the functions of PIWIs in crustaceans remain unknown. In the present study, we identified three Piwis from the testis of Eriocheir sinensis (E. sinensis). Three Piwi genes encoded proteins with typical features of PIWI subfamilies and were highly expressed in the testis. Three PIWIs could be detected in the cytoplasm of spermatocytes and spermatids, while in spermatozoa, we could only detect PIWI1 and PIWI3 in the nucleus. The knockdown of PIWIs by dsRNA significantly affected the formation of the nuclei in spermatozoa, which resulted in deviant and irregular nuclei. PIWI defects significantly inhibited the apoptosis of abnormal germ cells through the caspase-dependent apoptosis pathway and p53 pathway. Knockdown of PIWIs inhibited the expression of caspase3, 7, 8, and p53 without affecting Bcl2 (B-cell lymphoma gene 2), Bax (B-cell lymphoma-2-associated X) and BaxI (B-cell lymphoma-2-associated X inhibitor), which further significantly increased abnormal spermatozoa in the knockdown-group crabs. These results show a new role of PIWI proteins in crustaceans that is different from that in mammals. In summary, PIWIs play roles in the formation of the germline nucleus and can maintain apoptosis in abnormal germ cells to remove abnormal germ cells in E. sinensis.