Coupling of microRNA-directed phased small interfering RNA generation from long noncoding genes with alternative splicing and alternative polyadenylation in small RNA-mediated gene silencing

New Phytol. 2018 Mar;217(4):1535-1550. doi: 10.1111/nph.14934. Epub 2017 Dec 8.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) and phased small interfering RNAs (phasiRNAs) play vital regulatory roles in plant growth and development. Little is known about these small RNAs in litchi (Litchi chinensis), an economically important fruit crop widely cultivated in Southeast Asia. We profiled the litchi small RNA population with various deep-sequencing techniques and in-depth bioinformatic analyses. The genome-wide identification of miRNAs, their target genes, and phasiRNA-generating (PHAS) genes/loci showed that the function of miR482/2118 has expanded, relative to its canonical function. We also discovered that, for 29 PHAS loci, miRNA-mediated phasiRNA production was coupled with alternative splicing (AS) and alternative polyadenylation (APA). Most of these loci encoded long noncoding RNAs. An miR482/2118 targeted locus gave rise to four main transcript isoforms through AS/APA, and diverse phasiRNAs generated from these isoforms appeared to target long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons and other unrelated genes. This coupling enables phasiRNA production from different exons of noncoding PHAS genes and yields diverse phasiRNA populations, both broadening and altering the range of downstream phasiRNA-regulated genes. Our results reveal the diversity of miRNA and phasiRNA in litchi, and demonstrate AS/APA as a new layer of regulation in small RNA-mediated gene silencing.

Keywords: alternative splicing/polyadenylation; long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposon; miR482/2118; microRNA (miRNA); noncoding PHAS locus; phasiRNA; sRNA-mediated gene silencing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alternative Splicing / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genome, Plant
  • Litchi / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Polyadenylation / genetics*
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering