Establishing RNA interference as a reverse-genetic approach for gene functional analysis in protoplasts

Zhiyang Zhai, Thanwalee Sooksa-nguan, Olena K. Vatamaniuk

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79 Scopus citations


Double-stranded (ds)RNA interference (RNAi) is widely used for functional analysis of plant genes and is achieved via generating stable transformants expressing dsRNA in planta. This study demonstrated that RNAi can also be utilized to examine gene functions in protoplasts. Because protoplasts are nongrowing cells, effective RNAi-triggered gene silencing depends not only on a depletion of gene transcripts but also on turnover rates of corresponding polypeptides. Herein, we tested if transient RNAi in protoplasts would result in the depletion of a targeted polypeptide and, because protoplasts have a limited life span, if functional assays of RNAi knockout genes would be feasible in protoplasts. We showed that protoplasts transfection with an in vitro-synthesized dsRNA against Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) γ-glutamylcysteine synthase (ECS1), a key enzyme in the synthesis of glutathione, resulted in a 95% depletion of ECS1 transcript, a 72% decrease of ECS1 polypeptide, and a 60% drop in glutathione content. These results were comparable with those obtained upon analysis of Arabidopsis seedlings bearing the cad2-1 mutant allele of ECS1. We also improved the procedure for RNAi inactivation of several genes simultaneously. Finally, because we isolated protoplasts from tissues of 14-d-old seedlings instead of 1-month-old mature plants, the described procedure is rapid (as it only takes 20 d from seed planting to functional studies), suitable for analyzing multiple genes in parallel, and independent of cloning dsRNAs into plant expression vectors. Therefore, RNAi in protoplasts complements existing genetic tools, as it allows rapid, cost- and space-efficient initial screening and selection of genes for subsequent in planta studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)642-652
Number of pages11
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


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