The leaves of the plant Arabidopsis have top and bottom halves with different cellular morphologies and different physiological roles. Specific mutations in the Arabidopsis genes PHABULOSA (PHB) and PHAVOLUTA (PHV) interfere with normal leaf patterning. The mutations, which alter a microRNA binding site in mRNAs transcribed from the template gene, are associated with excess PHB and PHV proteins. The mechanism by which the normal microRNAs associated with the wild-type genes repress synthesis of PHB and PHV was not clear.
A research team led by Dr. M. Kathryn Barton from the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, California examined the relationship between microRNAs and DNA methylation. In general, high levels of methylation are associated with low levels of transcription while low levels of methylation are associated with high transcription rates. "To test whether the microRNA complementary site in the PHB mRNA affects the chromatin state of the PHB gene, we assayed the PHB gene for the extent of methylation in wild-type and in phb-1d mutants," explains Dr. Barton.
The researchers found that PHB and PHV coding sequences were heavily methylated downstream of the microRNA complementary site in most wild-type plant cells and that methylation was reduced in phb-1d and phv-1d mutants. According to Dr. Barton, "These results suggest a model in which the microRNA interacts with nascent, newly processed PHB mRNA to
Contact: Heidi Hardman