Background: The roles of non-coding RNAs in regulating gene expression have been extensively studied in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, however few reports exist as to their roles in organellar gene regulation. Evidence for accumulation of natural antisense RNAs (asRNAs) in chloroplasts comes from the expressed sequence tag database and cDNA libraries, while functional data have been largely obtained from artificial asRNAs. In this study, we used Nicotiana tabacum to investigate the effect on sense strand transcripts of overexpressing a natural chloroplast asRNA, AS5, which is complementary to the region which encodes the 5S rRNA and tRNAArg.
Results: AS5-overexpressing (AS5ox) plants obtained by chloroplast transformation exhibited slower growth and slightly pale green leaves. Analysis of AS5 transcripts revealed four distinct species in wild-type (WT) and AS5ox plants, and additional AS5ox-specific products. Of the corresponding sense strand transcripts, tRNAArg overaccumulated several-fold in transgenic plants whereas 5S rRNA was unaffected. However, run-on transcription showed that the 5S-trnR region was transcribed four-fold more in the AS5ox plants compared to WT, indicating that overexpression of AS5 was associated with decreased stability of 5S rRNA. In addition, polysome analysis of the transformants showed less 5S rRNA and rbcL mRNA associated with ribosomes.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that AS5 can modulate 5S rRNA levels, giving it the potential to affect Chloroplast translation and plant growth. More globally, overexpression of asRNAs via chloroplast transformation may be a useful strategy for defining their functions.