The Functions of RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerases in Arabidopsis
Enzymes and Coenzymes
One recently identified mechanism that regulates mRNA abundance is RNA silencing, and pioneering work in Arabidopsis thaliana and other genetic model organisms helped define this process. RNA silencing pathways are triggered by either self-complementary fold-back structures or the production of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) that gives rise to small RNAs (smRNAs) known as microRNAs (miRNAs) or small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs). These smRNAs direct sequence-specific regulation of various gene transcripts, repetitive sequences, viruses, and mobile elements via RNA cleavage, translational inhibition, or transcriptional silencing through DNA methylation and heterochromatin formation. Early genetic screens in Arabidopsis were instrumental in uncovering numerous proteins required for these important regulatory pathways. Among the factors identified by these studies were RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RDRs), which are proteins that synthesize siRNA-producing dsRNA molecules using a single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) molecule as a template. Recently, a growing body of evidence has implicated RDR-dependent RNA silencing in many different aspects of plant biology ranging from reproductive development to pathogen resistance. Here, we focus on the specific functions of the six Arabidopsis RDRs in RNA silencing, their ssRNA substrates and resulting RDR-dependent smRNAs, and the numerous biological functions of these proteins in plant development and stress responses.