DICER-LIKE2 plays a primary role in transitive silencing of transgenes in Arabidopsis

PLoS One. 2008 Mar 12;3(3):e1755. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001755.


Dicer-like (DCL) enzymes play a pivotal role in RNA silencing in plants, processing the long double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) that triggers silencing into the primary short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that mediate it. The siRNA population can be augmented and silencing amplified via transitivity, an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RDR)-dependent pathway that uses the target RNA as substrate to generate secondary siRNAs. Here we report that Arabidopsis DCL2-but not DCL4-is required for transitivity in cell-autonomous, post-transcriptional silencing of transgenes. An insertion mutation in DCL2 blocked sense transgene-induced silencing and eliminated accumulation of the associated RDR-dependent siRNAs. In hairpin transgene-induced silencing, the dcl2 mutation likewise eliminated accumulation of secondary siRNAs and blocked transitive silencing, but did not block silencing mediated by primary siRNAs. Strikingly, in all cases, the dcl2 mutation eliminated accumulation of all secondary siRNAs, including those generated by other DCL enzymes. In contrast, mutations in DCL4 promoted a dramatic shift to transitive silencing in the case of the hairpin transgene and enhanced silencing induced by the sense transgene. Suppression of hairpin and sense transgene silencing by the P1/HC-Pro and P38 viral suppressors was associated with elimination of secondary siRNA accumulation, but the suppressors did not block processing of the stem of the hairpin transcript into primary siRNAs. Thus, these viral suppressors resemble the dcl2 mutation in their effects on siRNA biogenesis. We conclude that DCL2 plays an essential, as opposed to redundant, role in transitive silencing of transgenes and may play a more important role in silencing of viruses than currently thought.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / physiology
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / physiology
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Genes, Plant*
  • Ribonuclease III / genetics*
  • Ribonuclease III / physiology
  • Transgenes*


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DCL2 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Ribonuclease III