RNA interference is now a well-recognized post-transcriptional mechanism for regulation of gene expression in both animals and plants. In this process, microRNAs (miRNAs) direct silencing complexes to complementary RNA sequences, leading to either degradation or repression of translation. Plants also contain another type of small RNA, small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), that play a role in gene silencing by directing cytosine methylation activities of complementary DNA sequences and thus, differ from miRNAs. This nuclear regulation system is referred to as RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM). In plant genomes, transposable elements were initially thought to be regulated by DNA methylation alone. However, several recent reports have revealed that siRNAs and RdDM also play crucial roles in silencing of transposons and endogenous repeats. It is also becoming apparent that transposons are subjected to different levels of regulation in response to developmental and environmental cues. Transposons are tightly regulated in germ cells to protect the host genome from transgenerational mutagenic activity. In plants, transposons are also activated by biotic and abiotic stress. The regulation of transposons in these different situations has been associated with both the DNA methylation and siRNA-mediated regulation systems, suggesting that plants likely evolved “multi-lock” systems for transposon regulation to ensure tight control during the developmental phase and environmental changes.
2013 by The Genetics Society of Japan