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Plant Cell. 2004 Aug;16(8):1979-2000. Epub 2004 Jul 16.

A systemic small RNA signaling system in plants.

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  • 1Section of Plant Biology, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Systemic translocation of RNA exerts non-cell-autonomous control over plant development and defense. Long-distance delivery of mRNA has been proven, but transport of small interfering RNA and microRNA remains to be demonstrated. Analyses performed on phloem sap collected from a range of plants identified populations of small RNA species. The dynamic nature of this population was reflected in its response to growth conditions and viral infection. The authenticity of these phloem small RNA molecules was confirmed by bioinformatic analysis; potential targets for a set of phloem small RNA species were identified. Heterografting studies, using spontaneously silencing coat protein (CP) plant lines, also established that transgene-derived siRNA move in the long-distance phloem and initiate CP gene silencing in the scion. Biochemical analysis of pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) phloem sap led to the characterization of C. maxima Phloem SMALL RNA BINDING PROTEIN1 (CmPSRP1), a unique component of the protein machinery probably involved in small RNA trafficking. Equivalently sized small RNA binding proteins were detected in phloem sap from cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and lupin (Lupinus albus). PSRP1 binds selectively to 25-nucleotide single-stranded RNA species. Microinjection studies provided direct evidence that PSRP1 could mediate the cell-to-cell trafficking of 25-nucleotide single-stranded, but not double-stranded, RNA molecules. The potential role played by PSRP1 in long-distance transmission of silencing signals is discussed with respect to the pathways and mechanisms used by plants to exert systemic control over developmental and physiological processes.

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