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PLoS Pathog. 2018 Jan 2;14(1):e1006756. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006756. eCollection 2018 Jan.

A role for small RNA in regulating innate immunity during plant growth.

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Key Laboratory of Horticultural Plant Biology, Ministry of Education, College of Horticulture and Forestry Sciences, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China.
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States of America.
Plant Gene expression Center, ARS-USDA, Albany, CA, United States of America.


Plant genomes encode large numbers of nucleotide-binding (NB) leucine-rich repeat (LRR) immune receptors (NLR) that mediate effector triggered immunity (ETI) and play key roles in protecting crops from diseases caused by devastating pathogens. Fitness costs are associated with plant NLR genes and regulation of NLR genes by micro(mi)RNAs and phased small interfering RNAs (phasiRNA) is proposed as a mechanism for reducing these fitness costs. However, whether NLR expression and NLR-mediated immunity are regulated during plant growth is unclear. We conducted genome-wide transcriptome analysis and showed that NLR expression gradually increased while expression of their regulatory small RNAs (sRNA) gradually decreased as plants matured, indicating that sRNAs could play a role in regulating NLR expression during plant growth. We further tested the role of miRNA in the growth regulation of NLRs using the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) resistance gene N, which was targeted by miR6019 and miR6020. We showed that N-mediated resistance to TMV effectively restricted this virus to the infected leaves of 6-week old plants, whereas TMV infection was lethal in 1- and 3-week old seedlings due to virus-induced systemic necrosis. We further found that N transcript levels gradually increased while miR6019 levels gradually decreased during seedling maturation that occurs in the weeks after germination. Analyses of reporter genes in transgenic plants showed that growth regulation of N expression was post-transcriptionally mediated by MIR6019/6020 whereas MIR6019/6020 was regulated at the transcriptional level during plant growth. TMV infection of MIR6019/6020 transgenic plants indicated a key role for miR6019-triggered phasiRNA production for regulation of N-mediated immunity. Together our results demonstrate a mechanistic role for miRNAs in regulating innate immunity during plant growth.

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