Maternal siRNAs as regulators of parental genome imbalance and gene expression in endosperm of Arabidopsis seeds
Seed size is important to crop domestication and natural selection and is affected by the balance of maternal and paternal genomes in endosperm. Endosperm, like placenta in mammals, provides reserves to the developing embryo. Interploidy crosses disrupt the genome balance in endosperm and alter seed size. Specifically, paternal-excess crosses (2 × 4) delay endosperm cellularization (EC) and produce larger seeds, whereas maternal-excess crosses (4 × 2) promote precocious EC and produce smaller seeds. The mechanisms for responding to the parental genome dosage imbalance and for gene expression changes in endosperm are unknown. In plants, RNA polymerase IV (PolIV or p4) encoded by NRPD1a is required for biogenesis of a major class of 24-nt small interfering RNAs (also known as p4-siRNAs), which are predominately expressed in developing endosperm. Here we show that p4-siRNA accumulation depends on the maternal genome dosage, and maternal p4-siRNAs target transposable elements (TEs) and TE-associated genes (TAGs) in seeds. The p4-siRNAs correlate negatively with expression levels of AGAMOUS-LIKE (AGL) genes in endosperm of interploidy crosses. Moreover, disruption of maternal NRPD1a expression is associated with p4-siRNA reduction and AGL up-regulation in endosperm of reciprocal crosses. This is unique genetic evidence for maternal siRNAs in response to parental genome imbalance and in control of transposons and gene expression during endosperm development.