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Identification, Characterization, And Functional Validation Of Drought-responsive MicroRNAs In Subtropical Maize Inbreds

J. Aravind, Sharma Rinku, B. Pooja, Mittal Shikha, Shiriga Kaliyugam, M. G. Mallikarjuna, A. Kumar, A. R. Rao, T. Nepolean
Published 2017 · Medicine, Biology

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MicroRNA-mediated gene regulation plays a crucial role in controlling drought tolerance. In the present investigation, 13 drought-associated miRNA families consisting of 65 members and regulating 42 unique target mRNAs were identified from drought-associated microarray expression data in maize and were subjected to structural and functional characterization. The largest number of members (14) was found in the zma-miR166 and zma-miR395 families, with several targets. However, zma-miR160, zma-miR390, zma-miR393, and zma-miR2275 each showed a single target. Twenty-three major drought-responsive cis-regulatory elements were found in the upstream regions of miRNAs. Many drought-related transcription factors, such as GAMYB, HD-Zip III, and NAC, were associated with the target mRNAs. Furthermore, two contrasting subtropical maize genotypes (tolerant: HKI-1532 and sensitive: V-372) were used to understand the miRNA-assisted regulation of target mRNA under drought stress. Approximately 35 and 31% of miRNAs were up-regulated in HKI-1532 and V-372, respectively. The up-regulation of target mRNAs was as high as 14.2% in HKI-1532 but was only 2.38% in V-372. The expression patterns of miRNA-target mRNA pairs were classified into four different types: Type I- up-regulation, Type II- down-regulation, Type III- neutral regulation, and Type IV- opposite regulation. HKI-1532 displayed 46 Type I, 13 Type II, and 23 Type III patterns, whereas V-372 had mostly Type IV interactions (151). A low level of negative regulations of miRNA associated with a higher level of mRNA activity in the tolerant genotype helped to maintain crucial biological functions such as ABA signaling, the auxin response pathway, the light-responsive pathway and endosperm expression under stress conditions, thereby leading to drought tolerance. Our study identified candidate miRNAs and mRNAs operating in important pathways under drought stress conditions, and these candidates will be useful in the development of drought-tolerant maize hybrids.
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