Primary transcripts of microRNAs encode regulatory peptides

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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small regulatory RNA molecules that inhibit the expression of specific target genes by binding to and cleaving their messenger RNAs or otherwise inhibiting their translation into proteins1. miRNAs are transcribed as much larger primary transcripts (pri-miRNAs), the function of which is not fully understood. Here we show that plant pri-miRNAs contain short open reading frame sequences that encode regulatory peptides. The pri-miR171b ofMedicago truncatulaand the pri-miR165a ofArabidopsis thalianaproduce peptides, which we term miPEP171b and miPEP165a, respectively, that enhance the accumulation of their corresponding mature miRNAs, resulting in downregulation of target genes involved in root development. The mechanism of miRNA-encoded peptide (miPEP) action involves increasing transcription of the pri-miRNA. Five other pri-miRNAs ofA. thalianaandM. truncatulaencode active miPEPs, suggesting that miPEPs are widespread throughout the plant kingdom. Synthetic miPEP171b and miPEP165a peptides applied to plants specifically trigger the accumulation of miR171b and miR165a, leading to reduction of lateral root development and stimulation of main root growth, respectively, suggesting that miPEPs might have agronomical applications.

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