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R-loops between nascent pri-miRNAs and the encoding loci promote co-transcriptional processing of miRNAs in plants

By Lucia Gonzalo, Ileana Tossolini, Tomasz Gulanicz, Damian Alejandro Cambiagno, Anna Kasprowicz-Maluski, Jan Dariusz Smolinski, Sebastian Marquardt, Zofia Szweykowska-Kulinska, Artur Jarmolowski, Pablo Andres Manavella

Posted 07 Sep 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.09.07.459282

In most organisms, the maturation of nascent RNAs is coupled to transcription, undergoing many processing steps co-transcriptionally. Unlike in animals, the RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) transcribes microRNAs (miRNAs) as long and structurally variable pri-miRNAs in plants. Current evidence suggests that the miRNA biogenesis complex assembly initiates early during the transcription of pri-miRNAs in plants. However, it is unknown whether miRNA processing occurs co-transcriptionally. Here, we show that plant miRNA biogenesis is coupled to transcription in a process that relies on the formation of DNA:RNA hybrids (R-loops) between the nascent transcript and the encoding loci. We used native elongating transcript sequencing data and imaging techniques to demonstrate that plant miRNA biogenesis occurs co-transcriptionally. We found that the entire biogenesis occurs coupled to transcription for pri-miRNAs processed from the loop but requires a second nucleoplasmic step for those processed from the base of the hairpin. Furthermore, we found that co- and post-transcriptional miRNA processing mechanisms co-exist for most miRNAs in a dynamic balance. Notably, we discovered that R-loops between the 5'-end single-stranded arm of the pri-miRNAs and the encoding loci anchor the transcript, promoting co-transcriptional processing. Our data demonstrate the coupling of transcription and miRNA processing in plants and discovered an unexpected function for R-loops promoting RNA processing. Furthermore, our results suggest the neo-functionalization of co-transcriptionally processed miRNAs, boosting countless regulatory scenarios.

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