The efficacy of gene silencing by plant microRNAs (miRNAs) is generally assumed to be predominantly determined by their abundance. In Arabidopsis the highly abundant miRNA, miR159, acts as a molecular "switch" in vegetative tissues completely silencing the expression of two GAMYB-like genes, MYB33 and MYB65. Here, we show that miR159 has a diminished silencing efficacy in the seed. Using reporter gene constructs, we determined that MIR159 and MYB33 are co-transcribed in the aleurone and embryo of germinating seeds. However in contrast to vegetative tissues, MYB33 is not completely silenced. Instead, miR159 appears to shape the spatio-temporal expression pattern of MYB33 during seed germination. Transcript profiling in a time course during seed germination in wild-type and a mir159 mutant in which miR159 is almost absent, revealed that transcript levels of the GAMYB-like genes were similar between these two genotypes during germination, but much higher in the mir159 mutant once germination had completed. This attenuation in the silencing of the GAMYB-like genes was not explained by a decrease in mature miR159 levels, which remained constant at all time points during seed germination. We propose that miR159 acts as a tuner of GAMYB-like levels in Arabidopsis germinating seeds and that the activity of this miRNA is attenuated in the seed compared to vegetative tissues. This implies that the efficacy of miRNA-mediated silencing is not solely determined by miRNA abundance and target transcript levels, but is being determined through additional mechanisms.
Alonso-Peral, M. M., Sun, C., & Millar, A. A. (2012). MicroRNA159 can act as a switch or tuning microRNA independently of its abundance in Arabidopsis. PloS One, 7(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034751