Background: MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are approximately 21 nucleotide (nt) RNAs that regulate gene expression in plants and animals. Most known plant miRNAs target transcription factors that influence cell fate determination, and biological functions of miRNA-directed regulation have been reported for four of 15 known microRNA gene families: miR172, miR159, miR165, and miR168. Here, we identify a developmental role for miR164-directed regulation of NAC-domain genes, which encode a family of transcription factors that includes CUP-SHAPED COTYLEDON1 (CUC1) and CUC2.
Results: Expression of a miR164-resistant version of CUC1 mRNA from the CUC1 promoter causes alterations in Arabidopsis embryonic, vegetative, and floral development, including cotyledon orientation defects, reduction of rosette leaf petioles, dramatically misshapen rosette leaves, one to four extra petals, and one or two missing sepals. Reciprocally, constitutive overexpression of miR164 recapitulates cuc1 cuc2 double mutant phenotypes, including cotyledon and floral organ fusions. miR164 overexpression also leads to phenotypes not previously observed in cuc1 cuc2 mutants, including leaf and stem fusions. These likely reflect the misregulation of other NAC-domain mRNAs, including NAC1, At5g07680, and At5g61430, for which miR164-directed cleavage products were detected.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that miR164-directed regulation of CUC1 is necessary for normal embryonic, vegetative, and floral development. They also show that proper miR164 dosage or localization is required for separation of adjacent embryonic, vegetative, and floral organs, thus implicating miR164 as a common regulatory component of the molecular circuitry that controls the separation of different developing organs and thereby exposes a posttranscriptional layer of NAC-domain gene regulation during plant development.