External dsRNA Downregulates Anthocyanin Biosynthesis-Related Genes and Affects Anthocyanin Accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jun 23;22(13):6749. doi: 10.3390/ijms22136749.


Exogenous application of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) and small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to plant surfaces has emerged as a promising method for regulation of essential genes in plant pathogens and for plant disease protection. Yet, regulation of plant endogenous genes via external RNA treatments has not been sufficiently investigated. In this study, we targeted the genes of chalcone synthase (CHS), the key enzyme in the flavonoid/anthocyanin biosynthesis pathway, and two transcriptional factors, MYBL2 and ANAC032, negatively regulating anthocyanin biosynthesis in Arabidopsis. Direct foliar application of AtCHS-specific dsRNAs and siRNAs resulted in an efficient downregulation of the AtCHS gene and suppressed anthocyanin accumulation in A. thaliana under anthocyanin biosynthesis-modulating conditions. Targeting the AtMYBL2 and AtANAC032 genes by foliar dsRNA treatments markedly reduced their mRNA levels and led to a pronounced upregulation of the AtCHS gene. The content of anthocyanins was increased after treatment with AtMYBL2-dsRNA. Laser scanning microscopy showed a passage of Cy3-labeled AtCHS-dsRNA into the A. thaliana leaf vessels, leaf parenchyma cells, and stomata, indicating the dsRNA uptake and spreading into leaf tissues and plant individual cells. Together, these data show that exogenous dsRNAs were capable of downregulating Arabidopsis genes and induced relevant biochemical changes, which may have applications in plant biotechnology and gene functional studies.

Keywords: RNA interference; anthocyanins; exogenous dsRNA; gene silencing; plant foliar treatment; plant gene regulation.

MeSH terms

  • Anthocyanins / metabolism*
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant*
  • RNA, Double-Stranded*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Anthocyanins
  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • RNA, Double-Stranded