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Curr Biol. 2010 Jan 12;20(1):37-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.10.076.

RNA secondary structural determinants of miRNA precursor processing in Arabidopsis.

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The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are excised from hairpin structures within primary miRNAs (pri-miRNAs). Most animal pri-miRNAs are processed by two cleavages, the first at a loop-distal site approximately 11 nucleotides (nt) from the end of the hairpin and the second approximately 22 nt beyond the first. To identify RNA structural determinants of miRNA processing in plants, we analyzed the functional consequences of changing the secondary structure of the lower (loop-distal), middle (miRNA:miRNA(*)), and upper (loop-proximal) stems of the hairpin in two different pri-miRNAs. Closing bulges immediately below the loop-distal cleavage sites increased the accumulation of accurately cleaved precursor miRNAs but decreased the abundance of the mature miRNAs. A pri-miRNA variant with an unpaired lower stem was not processed, and variants with a perfectly paired middle or upper stem were processed normally. Bioinformatic analysis of pri-miRNA structures, together with physical mapping of initial cleavage sites and in vitro processing of pri-miRNA, reveals that the first, loop-distal cleavage is often at a distance of approximately 15 nt from an unpaired region. Hence, a common determinant of the rate and location of the initial pri-miRNA cleavage is an imperfectly base-paired duplex of approximately 15 nt between the miRNA:miRNA(*) duplex and either a less structured region of the lower stem or its end.

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