MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous small RNAs repressing target gene expression post-transcriptionally and are critically involved in various development processes and responses to environmental stresses. MiR408 is highly conserved in land plants and targets several transcripts encoding copper proteins. Although it has been well documented that expression level of miR408 is strongly influenced by a variety of environmental conditions including copper availability, the biological function of this miRNA is still unknown. Here we show that constitutive expression of miR408 results in enhanced growth of seedling and adult plant while knocking down miR408 level by T-DNA insertions or the artificial miRNA technique causes impaired growth. Further, we found that constitutively activated miR408 is able to complement the growth defects of the T-DNA lines. Regarding the molecular mechanism governing miR408 expression, we found that the transcription factors SQUAMOSA PROMOTER BINDING PROTEIN-LIKE7 (SPL7) binds to the GTAC motifs in the MIR408 promoter in response to copper deficiency. Interestingly, constitutive activation of miR408 in the spl7 background could partially rescue the severe growth defects of the mutant. Together these results demonstrate that miR408 is a powerful modulator of vegetative growth. Our finding thus reveals a novel control mechanism for vegetative development based on calculated miR408 expression in response to environmental cues.
© 2013 The Authors The Plant Journal © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.