Background: The Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis) DOUBLE-STRANDED RNA BINDING (DRB) protein family consists of five members, DRB1 to DRB5. The biogenesis of two developmentally important small RNA (sRNA) species, the microRNAs (miRNAs) and trans-acting small interfering RNAs (tasiRNAs) by DICER-LIKE (DCL) endonucleases requires the assistance of DRB1 and DRB4 respectively. The importance of miRNA-directed target gene expression in plant development is exemplified by the phenotypic consequence of loss of DRB1 activity (drb1 plants).
Principal findings: Here we report that the developmental phenotype of the drb235 triple mutant plant is the result of deregulated miRNA biogenesis in the shoot apical meristem (SAM) region. The expression of DRB2, DRB3 and DRB5 in wild-type seedlings is restricted to the SAM region. Small RNA sequencing of the corresponding tissue of drb235 plants revealed altered miRNA accumulation. Approximately half of the miRNAs detected remained at levels equivalent to those of wild-type plants. However, the accumulation of the remaining miRNAs was either elevated or reduced in the triple mutant. Examination of different single and multiple drb mutants revealed a clear association between the loss of DRB2 activity and altered accumulation for both the elevated and reduced miRNA classes. Furthermore, we show that the constitutive over-expression of DRB2 outside of its wild-type expression domain can compensate for the loss of DRB1 activity in drb1 plants.
Conclusions/significance: Our results suggest that in the SAM region, DRB2 is both antagonistic and synergistic to the role of DRB1 in miRNA biogenesis, adding an additional layer of gene regulatory complexity in this developmentally important tissue.