EAT1 transcription factor, a non-cell-autonomous regulator of pollen production, activates meiotic small RNA biogenesis in rice anther tapetum

PLoS Genet. 2018 Feb 12;14(2):e1007238. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007238. eCollection 2018 Feb.


The 24-nucleotides (nt) phased secondary small interfering RNA (phasiRNA) is a unique class of plant small RNAs abundantly expressed in monocot anthers at early meiosis. Previously, 44 intergenic regions were identified as the loci for longer precursor RNAs of 24-nt phasiRNAs (24-PHASs) in the rice genome. However, the regulatory mechanism that determines spatiotemporal expression of these RNAs has remained elusive. ETERNAL TAPETUM1 (EAT1) is a basic-helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor indispensable for induction of programmed cell death (PCD) in postmeiotic anther tapetum, the somatic nursery for pollen production. In this study, EAT1-dependent non-cell-autonomous regulation of male meiosis was evidenced from microscopic observation of the eat1 mutant, in which meiosis with aberrantly decondensed chromosomes was retarded but accomplished somehow, eventually resulting in abortive microspores due to an aberrant tapetal PCD. EAT1 protein accumulated in tapetal-cell nuclei at early meiosis and postmeiotic microspore stages. Meiotic EAT1 promoted transcription of 24-PHAS RNAs at 101 loci, and importantly, also activated DICER-LIKE5 (DCL5, previous DCL3b in rice) mRNA transcription that is required for processing of double-stranded 24-PHASs into 24-nt lengths. From the results of the chromatin-immunoprecipitation and transient expression analyses, another tapetum-expressing bHLH protein, TDR INTERACTING PROTEIN2 (TIP2), was suggested to be involved in meiotic small-RNA biogenesis. The transient assay also demonstrated that UNDEVELOPED TAPETUM1 (UDT1)/bHLH164 is a potential interacting partner of both EAT1 and TIP2 during early meiosis. This study indicates that EAT1 is one of key regulators triggering meiotic phasiRNA biogenesis in anther tapetum, and that other bHLH proteins, TIP2 and UDT1, also play some important roles in this process. Spatiotemporal expression control of these bHLH proteins is a clue to orchestrate precise meiosis progression and subsequent pollen production non-cell-autonomously.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Flowers / cytology
  • Flowers / genetics*
  • Flowers / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Meiosis / genetics
  • Oryza / genetics*
  • Oryza / physiology
  • Plant Infertility / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / physiology
  • Pollen / genetics
  • Pollen / metabolism*
  • RNA, Plant / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*


  • Plant Proteins
  • RNA, Plant
  • Transcription Factors

Grant support

This work was supported by KAKENHI Grant No. 25252004 and No. 17H05849 from Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS). Deep sequencing analyses were supported by Cooperative Research Grant of the Genome Research for BioResource, NODAI Genome Research Center, Tokyo University of Agriculture. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.