miRNA control of vegetative phase change in trees

PLoS Genet. 2011 Feb;7(2):e1002012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002012. Epub 2011 Feb 24.


After germination, plants enter juvenile vegetative phase and then transition to an adult vegetative phase before producing reproductive structures. The character and timing of the juvenile-to-adult transition vary widely between species. In annual plants, this transition occurs soon after germination and usually involves relatively minor morphological changes, whereas in trees and other perennial woody plants it occurs after months or years and can involve major changes in shoot architecture. Whether this transition is controlled by the same mechanism in annual and perennial plants is unknown. In the annual forb Arabidopsis thaliana and in maize (Zea mays), vegetative phase change is controlled by the sequential activity of microRNAs miR156 and miR172. miR156 is highly abundant in seedlings and decreases during the juvenile-to-adult transition, while miR172 has an opposite expression pattern. We observed similar changes in the expression of these genes in woody species with highly differentiated, well-characterized juvenile and adult phases (Acacia confusa, Acacia colei, Eucalyptus globulus, Hedera helix, Quercus acutissima), as well as in the tree Populus x canadensis, where vegetative phase change is marked by relatively minor changes in leaf morphology and internode length. Overexpression of miR156 in transgenic P. x canadensis reduced the expression of miR156-targeted SPL genes and miR172, and it drastically prolonged the juvenile phase. Our results indicate that miR156 is an evolutionarily conserved regulator of vegetative phase change in both annual herbaceous plants and perennial trees.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Trees / genetics*
  • Trees / growth & development*


  • MicroRNAs