Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) is a eukaryotic quality control mechanism that identifies and eliminates aberrant mRNAs containing a premature termination codon (PTC). Although, key trans-acting NMD factors, UPF1, UPF2 and UPF3 are conserved in yeast and mammals, the cis-acting NMD elements are different. In yeast, short specific sequences or long 3′-untranslated regions (3′-UTRs) render an mRNA subject to NMD, while in mammals' 3′-UTR located introns trigger NMD. Plants also possess an NMD system, although little is known about how it functions. We have elaborated an agroinfiltration-based transient NMD assay system and defined the cis-acting elements that mediate plant NMD. We show that unusually long 3′-UTRs or the presence of introns in the 3′-UTR can subject mRNAs to NMD. These data suggest that both long 3′-UTR-based and intron-based PTC definition operated in the common ancestors of extant eukaryotes (stem eukaryotes) and support the theory that intron-based NMD facilitated the spreading of introns in stem eukaryotes. We have also identified plant UPF1 and showed that tethering of UPF1 to either the 5′- or 3′-UTR of an mRNA results in reduced transcript accumulation. Thus, plant UPF1 might bind to mRNA in a late, irreversible phase of NMD.
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