miR778 mediates gene expression, histone modification, and DNA methylation during cyst nematode parasitism

Plant Physiol. 2022 May 17;kiac228. doi: 10.1093/plphys/kiac228. Online ahead of print.


Despite the known critical regulatory functions of microRNAs, histone modifications, and DNA methylation in reprograming plant epigenomes in response to pathogen infection, the molecular mechanisms underlying the tight coordination of these components remain poorly understood. Here, we show how Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) miR778 coordinately modulates the root transcriptome, histone methylation, and DNA methylation via post-transcriptional regulation of the H3K9 methyltransferases SU(var)3-9 homologue 5 (SUVH5) and SUVH6 upon infection by the beet cyst nematode Heterodera schachtii. miR778 post-transcriptionally silences SUVH5 and SUVH6 upon nematode infection. Manipulation of the expression of miR778 and its two target genes significantly altered plant susceptibility to H. schachtii. RNA-seq analysis revealed a key role of SUVH5 and SUVH6 in reprograming the transcriptome of Arabidopsis roots upon H. schachtii infection. In addition, ChIP-seq analysis established SUVH5 and SUVH6 as the main enzymes mediating H3K9me2 deposition in Arabidopsis roots in response to nematode infection. ChIP-seq analysis also showed that these methyltransferases possess distinct DNA binding preferences in that they are targeting transposable elements under non-infected conditions and protein-coding genes in infected plants. Further analyses indicated that H3K9me2 deposition directed by SUVH5 and SUVH6 contributes to gene expression changes both in roots and in nematode feeding sites and preferentially associates with CG DNA methylation. Together, our results uncovered multi-layered epigenetic regulatory mechanisms coordinated by miR778 during Arabidopsis-H. schachtii interactions.

Keywords: Heterodera schachtii; miR778; Arabidopsis; ChIP-seq; DNA methylation; RNA-seq; SUVH5; SUVH6; histone 3 lysine 9 dimethylation (H3K9me2); syncytium.