Detection of Pol IV/RDR2-Dependent Transcripts at the Genomic Scale in <em>Arabidopsis</em> Reveals Features and Regulation of siRNA Biogenesis

Li, Shaofang
Tu, Bin
Gao, Lei
Won, So Youn
Li, Shengben
Zheng, Binglian
Chen, Xuemei

Twenty-four-nucleotide small interfering (si)RNAs are central players in RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM), a process that establishes and maintains DNA methylation at transposable elements to ensure genome stability in plants. The plant-specific RNA polymerase IV (Pol IV) is required for siRNA biogenesis and is believed to transcribe RdDM loci to produce primary transcripts that are converted to double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) by RDR2 to serve as siRNA precursors. Yet, no such siRNA precursor transcripts have ever been reported. Here, through genome-wide profiling of RNAs in genotypes that compromise the processing of siRNA precursors, we were able to identify Pol IV/RDR2-dependent transcripts from tens of thousands of loci. We show that Pol IV/RDR2-dependent transcripts correspond to both DNA strands, whereas the RNA polymerase II (Pol II)-dependent transcripts produced upon derepression of the loci are derived primarily from one strand. We also show that Pol IV/RDR2-dependent transcripts have a 5′ monophosphate, lack a poly(A) tail at the 3′ end, and contain no introns; these features distinguish them from Pol II-dependent transcripts. Like Pol II-transcribed genic regions, Pol IV-transcribed regions are flanked by A/T-rich sequences depleted in nucleosomes, which highlights similarities in Pol II- and Pol IV-mediated transcription. Computational analysis of siRNA abundance from various mutants reveals differences in the regulation of siRNA biogenesis at two types of loci that undergo CHH methylation via two different DNA methyltransferases. These findings begin to reveal features of Pol IV/RDR2-mediated transcription at the heart of genome stability in plants.

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