Key Laboratory of Crop Biology of Anhui Province, Anhui, Agricultural University, Hefei 230036, China
* These authors contributed equally to this work.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small, non-coding regulatory RNAs that regulate gene expression by guiding target mRNA cleavage or translational inhibition in plants and animals. At present there is relatively little information regarding the role of miRNAs in the response to drought stress in maize. In this study, two small RNA libraries were sequenced, and a total of 11,973,711 and 14,326,010 raw sequences were generated from growing leaves of drought-tolerant and drought-sensitive maize seedlings, respectively. Further analysis identified 192 mature miRNAs, which include 124 known maize (zma) miRNAs and 68 potential novel miRNA candidates. Additionally, 167 target genes (259 transcripts) of known and novel miRNAs were predicted to be differentially expressed between two maize inbred lines. Of these, three novel miRNAs were up-regulated and two were down-regulated under drought stress. The expression of these five miRNAs and nine target genes was confirmed using quantitative reverse transcription PCR. The expression of three of the miRNAs and their putative target genes exhibited an inverse correlation, and expression analysis suggested that all five may play important roles in maize leaves. Finally, GO annotations of the target genes indicated a potential role in photosynthesis, may therefore contribute to the drought stress response. This study describes the identification and characterization of novel miRNAs that are the differentially expressed in drought-tolerant and drought-sensitive inbred maize lines. This provides the foundation for further investigation into the mechanism of miRNA function in response to drought stress in maize.
Keywords: Maize, Drought stress, MicroRNA, Target genes, High-throughput sequencing, qRT-PCR