Ustilago maydisnatural antisense transcript expression alters mRNA stability and pathogenesis

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Ustilago maydisinfection ofZea maysleads to the production of thick-walled diploid teliospores that are the dispersal agent for this pathogen. Transcriptome analyses of this model biotrophic basidiomycete fungus identified natural antisense transcripts (NATs) complementary to 247 open reading frames. TheU. maydisNAT cDNAs were fully sequenced and annotated. Strand-specific RT-PCR screens confirmed expression and identified NATs preferentially expressed in the teliospore. Targeted screens revealed fourU. maydisNATs that are conserved in a related fungus. Expression of NATs in haploid cells, where they are not naturally occurring, resulted in increased steady-state levels of some complementary mRNAs. The expression of one NAT,as-um02151, in haploid cells resulted in a twofold increase in complementary mRNA levels, the formation of sense–antisense double-stranded RNAs, and unchanged Um02151 protein levels. This led to a model for NAT function in the maintenance and expression of stored teliospore mRNAs. In testing this model by deletion of the regulatory region, it was determined that alteration in NAT expression resulted in decreased pathogenesis in both cob and seedling infections. This annotation and functional analysis supports multiple roles forU. maydisNATs in controlling gene expression and influencing pathogenesis.

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