In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, RNA interference (RNAi) triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) spreads systemically to cause gene silencing throughout the organism and its progeny. We confirm that Caenorhabditis nematode SID-1 orthologs have dsRNA transport activity and demonstrate that the SID-1 paralog CHUP-1 does not transport dsRNA. Sequence comparison of these similar proteins, in conjunction with analysis of loss-of-function missense alleles identifies several conserved 2-7 amino acid microdomains within the extracellular domain that are important for dsRNA transport. Among these missense alleles, we identify and characterize a sid-1 allele, qt95, which causes tissue-specific silencing defects most easily explained as a systemic RNAi export defect. However, we conclude from genetic and biochemical analyses that sid-1(qt95) disrupts only import and speculate that the apparent export defect is caused by the cumulative effect of sequentially impaired dsRNA import steps. Thus, consistent with previous studies, we fail to detect a requirement for sid-1 in dsRNA export, but demonstrate for the first time that SID-1 functions in the intestine to support environmental RNAi.
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