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Mol Cell Biol. Sep 1994; 14(9): 5910–5919.
PMCID: PMC359117

Small nuclear RNA genes transcribed by either RNA polymerase II or RNA polymerase III in monocot plants share three promoter elements and use a strategy to regulate gene expression different from that used by their dicot plant counterparts.

Abstract

RNA polymerase (Pol) II- and RNA Pol III-transcribed small nuclear RNA (snRNA) genes of dicotyledonous plants contain two essential upstream promoter elements, the USE and TATA. The USE is a highly conserved plant snRNA gene-specific element, and its distance from the -30 TATA box, corresponding to approximately three and four helical DNA turns in Pol III and Pol II genes, respectively, is crucial for determining RNA Pol specificity of transcription. Sequences upstream of the USE play no role in snRNA gene transcription in dicot plants. Here we show that for expression of snRNA genes in maize, a monocotyledonous plant, the USE and TATA elements are essential, but not sufficient, for transcription. Efficient expression of both Pol II- and Pol III-specific snRNA genes in transfected maize protoplasts requires an additional element(s) positioned upstream of the USE. This element, named MSP (for monocot-specific promoter; consensus, RGCCCR), is present in one to three copies in monocot snRNA genes and is interchangeable between Pol II- and Pol III-specific genes. The efficiency of snRNA gene expression in maize protoplast is determined primarily by the strength of the MSP element(s); this contrasts with the situation in protoplasts of a dicot plant, Nicotiana plumbaginifolia, where promoter strength is a function of the quality of the USE element. Interestingly, the organization of monocot Pol III-specific snRNA gene promoters closely resembles those of equivalent vertebrate promoters. The data are discussed in the context of the coevolution of Pol II- and Pol III-specific snRNA gene promoters within many eukaryotic organisms.

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