A comparative analysis of small RNA sequencing data in tubers of purple potato and its red mutant reveals small RNA regulation in anthocyanin biosynthesis

A comparative analysis of small RNA sequencing data in tubers of purple potato and its red mutant reveals small RNA regulation in anthocyanin biosynthesis

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Bioinformatics and Genomics


Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds, which are secondary metabolites. They are natural food pigments found in edible parts of fruits, vegetables and crops (Chiu et al., 2010). The foods rich in anthocyanin present bright colors and are popular with people (Bimpilas et al., 2016). Moreover, anthocyanins also have antioxidant activity and can protect human beings from disease or reduce the damage of disease. The anthocyanin extracts from purple rice protect cardiac function in STZ-induced diabetes rat hearts by inhibiting cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis (Chen et al., 2016). Anthocyanins from red potato show anti-hepatotoxity in rats with toxicity of D-galactosamine (Han et al., 2006). Anthocyanin extracts from bilberries and blackcurrants have protective activity on acute acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in rats (Cristani et al., 2016).

In anthocyanin biosynthesis, phenylalanine is a primary precursor. Then under the action of a series of enzymes, the substances of coumaroyl CoA, dihydroflavonols, leucoanthocyanins and anthocyanins are successively produced. Anthocyanin biosynthesis is regulated by structural genes and their transcription factors. Some genes regulating anthocyanin biosynthesis have been isolated and characterized in potato, such as f3’5’h (Jung et al., 2005), dfr (De Jong et al., 2003), developer (D) locus (Jung et al., 2009), AN1 (D’Amelia et al., 2014) and StMYB44 (Liu et al., 2019).

Small RNAs usually consist of 20-30 nucleotides and widely exist in eukaryotic organisms. According to their biogenesis modes, small RNAs are distinguished into three major types, namely miRNA, siRNA and piRNA (Axtell, 2013; Chen, 2009). Small RNAs guide biological processes at DNA or RNA level, for example, the cleavage of complementary RNAs. Different types of small RNAs have similar molecular functions. Both miRNAs and siRNAs can inhibit translation of target mRNAs, and both siRNAs and piRNAs can direct chromatin modifications (Chen, 2009). miRNAs regulate target mRNAs through transcript cleavage and/or translational inhibition. Conserved miRNAs play vital roles in many plant physiological processes, such as development, stress responses, primary and secondary metabolism (Gou et al., 2011; Jones-Rhoades, Bartel & Bartel, 2006; Matzke et al., 2009; Xia et al., 2012).

So far, miRNAs have been proved to be involved in the regulation of anthocyanin biosynthesis. miRNA858a and HYPOCOTYL 5 (HY5) can repress the expression of MYB-LIKE 2 (MYBL2), thus leading to the activation of anthocyanin biosynthesis pathway (Wang et al., 2016). Increasing miR156 activity promotes anthocyanin accumulation, while reducing miR156 activity leads to a high level of flavonol (Gou et al., 2011). Both miR828 and miR858 regulate VvMYB114 to promote anthocyanin biosynthesis in grapes (Tirumalai et al., 2019). The miRNA involved in anthocyanin biosynthesis pathway are also reported in apple (Hu et al., 2021), tomato (Jia et al., 2015), potato (Bonar et al., 2018) and kiwifruit (Li et al., 2019). However, there are few studies on the post-transcriptional regulation of miRNA in potato anthocyanin biosynthesis. In the study, a comparative miRNA analysis and the expression analysis of miRNA-mRNA were performed between purple flesh potato, SD92, and its red flesh mutant, SD140. These results will shed light on the regulation mechanism of miRNA in potato anthocyanin biosynthesis.

Materials & Methods

Plant materials

SD92, commonly known as Hei Jingang, was a tetraploid potato with purple skin and purple flesh. SD140 is a mutant of SD92. Its skin and flesh colors were red (Liu et al., 2018; Liu et al., 2015). Two materials were planted in a greenhouse for two months at 20  ± 2 °C with a photoperiod of 16 h light/8 h dark.

Sample library construction and sequencing

Fresh tubers (diameter 4–5 cm) from three individual plants were harvested for three biological replicates, cleaned with sterilized water, frozen in liquid nitrogen and finally stored at −80 °C. Total RNA extraction of the samples was performed with a modified Trizol reagent (Liu et al., 2018) for library construction and validation of miRNA sequencing data.

Small RNA was isolated and the library was constructed in accordance with the protocol of Preparing Samples for Analysis of Small RNA (Illumina, San Diego, CA, USA). The 18-30 nt RNA segments were separated from total RNA by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, then ligated with 3′ adaptor (GAACGACATGGCTACGATCCGACTT) and 5′ adaptor (AGTCGGAGGCCAAGCGGTCTTAGGAAGACAA). The resulting segments were employed to synthesize first-strand cDNA. The cDNA was amplified and only cDNA with both 3′ and 5′ adaptors was enriched. Finally, the fragments of 100–120 bp were separated to construct the library. After library quantification and single-stranded DNA cyclization, the library was sequenced by BGISEQ-500 technology. The raw data was deposited into NCBI BioProject database (PRJNA824931).

miRNA identification and prediction

The impurities of raw data, including 5′ primer contaminants, no-insert tags, oversized insertion tags, low quality tags, poly-A tags and the tags without 3′ primer, were excluded from the raw data to obtain clean tags. Low-quality tags were tags whose base quality values were less than 20, accounting for more than 50% of the total bases. The clean tags were mapped to potato reference genome PGSC_DM v4.03 (http://solanaceae.plantbiology.msu.edu/data) by Bowtie2 (Langmead et al., 2009) and small RNA databases miRBase (Kozomara & Griffiths-Jones, 2014), snoRNA (Yoshihama, Nakao & Kenmochi, 2013) and Rfam (Nawrocki et al., 2015). If a small RNA could be mapped to more than one database, the small RNA annotation followed the searching priority of miRBase > snoRNA > Rfam. One small RNA was only mapped to one category. The small RNAs mapped to Rfam database were validated by cmsearch (Nawrocki & Eddy, 2013). The novel miRNA was determined by miRA (Evers et al., 2015) according to the characteristic hairpin structure of miRNA precursor. Small interfering RNA (siRNA), a 22–24 nt double-strand RNA, was identified by the characteristic of one strand 2 nt shorter than the other (Jagla et al., 2005).

miRNA expression and screening of differentially expressed miRNAs (DEMs)

The expression level of miRNA was estimated by the transcripts per kilobase million (TPM) (’t Hoen et al., 2008). The differential expression was calculated by DEGseq (Wang et al., 2010) based on MA-plot method (Yang et al., 2002). The P-value calculated for each gene was adjusted to Q-value for multiple testing corrections by two alternative strategies. The miRNAs with expression fold change > 2 and Q-value < 0.001 were defined as differentially expressed miRNAs. The volcano plot and heatmap of differentially expressed miRNAs were obtained by Excel 2016 and MeV (Saeed et al., 2003), respectively.

Target gene prediction, Gene Ontology (GO) and KEGG pathway enrichment analyses

TargetFinder (Fahlgren & Carrington, 2010) and psRobot (Wu et al., 2012) were used to predict the target genes of miRNAs. All target genes were mapped to GO-terms in the database (http://www.geneontology.org/) and KEGG Orthology (Kanehisa et al., 2008) pathways. The enrichment analyses of GO terms and KEGG pathways were performed by the hypergeometric test based on GO::TermFinder (Boyle et al., 2004). The P-values were adjusted by Bonferroni method (Abdi, 2007). The adjusted P-value was defined as Q-value. The terms with Q-value < 0.05 were defined as significantly enriched terms.

Expression validation of miRNAs

RNAs were digested by DNaseI (Thermo, USA) to remove genome DNA. First-strand cDNA was synthesized by miRNA First Strand cDNA Synthesis Kit (Sangon Biotech, China) using tailing reaction method. Real-time quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) was performed with UltraSYBR Mixture Kit (CWBIO, China) by using 18S rRNA (GenBank: X67238.1) as a reference gene. The primers of 18S rRNA and miRNAs were listed in Table 1. The universal reverse primer for miRNAs was supplied from miRNA First Strand cDNA Synthesis Kit. Three biological replicates were performed. Significant difference of miRNA expression between SD92 and SD140 was identified by Student’s t-test (P < 0.05).

Table 1:

Primer sequences of miRNAs for real-time quantitative PCR.

Primer Direction Sequence (5′–3′)
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/table-1


Sequencing and classification of potato small RNAs

To identify the miRNAs regulating potato flesh color, six small RNA libraries were constructed and sequenced. The counts of raw tags of six libraries ranged from 28,058,311 to 30,152,601 (Table 2). Low quality tags, invalid adapter tags, poly-A tags and short valid length tags (shorter than 18 nt) were removed to obtain clean tags. The percentages of clean tags of six libraries ranged from 92.10% to 95.22%, which indicated the sequencing data could be used for subsequent analyses. Of the six libraries, 19-25 nt length tags accounted for 87.9%–96.4% of the total tags, and the 24 nt tags were the most abundant (Table S1). More than 85.04% of the total clean tags from six libraries were mapped to the reference genome (Table S2). Therefore, the sequencing data should accurately reflect small RNA expression and could be used for differential expression analysis of small RNA. To classify and annotate small RNAs, the clean tags were mapped to small RNA databases miRBase, snoRNA and Rfam. The types and proportion of identified small RNAs were similar within six libraries. The intergenic miRNAs were the most abundant (Table S3).

Table 2:

Summary of sequencing data for each sample.

Sample name Raw tag count Low quality tag Invalid adapter tag Poly A tag Tag length < 18 Clean tag Q20 of clean tag (%) Percentage of clean tag (%)
SD140_1 30,152,601 521,573 1,211,217 765 296,890 28,122,156 99.30 93.27
SD140_2 29,662,224 559,145 642,637 1,307 285,077 28,174,058 99.20 94.98
SD140_3 29,108,569 439,201 1,438,318 979 420,200 26,809,871 99.20 92.10
SD92_1 28,058,311 476,281 601,154 814 262,128 26,717,934 99.00 95.22
SD92_2 28,907,701 462,036 684,333 2,174 265,810 27,493,348 99.30 95.11
SD92_3 29,706,600 544,647 816,486 1,600 341,405 28,002,462 99.20 94.26
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/table-2

Identification of known and novel miRNAs

There were about 300 known miRNAs and 160 novel miRNAs identified in every library (Table 3). In total, 356 known miRNAs belonging to 121 miRNA families were identified (Table S4), and miR172 family was the most abundant family where 21 members were identified. The nucleotide bias analyses on these non-redundant known miRNAs (Fig. S1A) showed that the first and 24th nucleotide preferred to be uracil (U), and adenine (A) was the dominant nucleotide in the 10th nucleotide position. Meanwhile, several nucleotide positions were conserved. For example, the proportions of four kinds of nucleotides were nearly equal in the 4th, 9th and 16th nucleotide position (Fig. S1A).

Table 3:

Summary of detected small RNAs for each sample.

Sample name Known miRNA Novel miRNA Known siRNA Novel siRNA
SD140_1 290 151 0 12,518
SD140_2 293 161 0 13,671
SD140_3 284 145 0 12,447
SD92_1 275 166 0 13,373
SD92_2 304 161 0 11,225
SD92_3 311 168 0 13,147
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/table-3

Unmapped tags were further used to predict novel small RNAs. Totally, 171 novel miRNAs were identified for six libraries. The mature sequences, star sequences and precursor sequences of 171 novel miRNAs were listed in Table S5. The length of the novel miRNAs ranged from 19 to 30 nucleotides. Most of the nucleotide positions preferred to be uracil (U) or adenine (A) (Fig. S1B). Two exceptions were the 9th and 11th nucleotide where the dominant nucleotides were guanine (G) and cytosine (C), respectively.

Differentially expressed miRNAs between SD92 and SD140

To further validate the expression changes of miRNAs between SD92 and SD140, 15 miRNAs from 11 different miRNA families were randomly selected to be tested by RT-qPCR (Fig. 1). The results of RT-qPCR showed the same expression regulation pattern with miRNA sequencing data, which suggested that the miRNA sequencing result was reliable. What’s more, the results showed 6 miRNAs were differentially expressed between SD92 and SD140 (P < 0.05). Different miRNAs from the same miRNA family displayed the same regulation pattern. For example, both miR166a-3p and miR166d-5p_2 were from miR166 family and exhibited higher expression levels in SD140 than in SD92.

Expression analysis of miRNAs by RT-qPCR.

Figure 1: Expression analysis of miRNAs by RT-qPCR.

The values are represented by mean ± standard deviation (n = 3). Student’s t-test, P < 0.05.

A total of 179 differentially expressed miRNAs were identified in this study, including 107 known miRNAs and 72 novel miRNAs (Fig. 2A, Table S6). Among the differentially expressed miRNAs, 65 and 114 were confirmed to be up- and down-regulated in SD140, respectively. These miRNAs belonged to 49 miRNA families. Of the 49 miRNA families, miR399 and miR172 family were the two largest families, which contained 10 and 9 miRNA members, respectively. Interestingly, the members of miR399 and miR172 families were significantly down-regulated in SD140, respectively.

Identification of differentially expressed miRNAs between SD92 and SD140.

Figure 2: Identification of differentially expressed miRNAs between SD92 and SD140.

(A) Volcano plot of differentially expressed miRNAs between SD92 and SD140. The cutoff values of fold change and Q-value are > 2 and < 0.001, respectively. Up-regulated and down-regulated miRNAs are indicated by red and blue dots. (B) Heatmap of differentially expressed miRNAs in three biological replicates. Hierarchical clustering was performed by complete linkage method and Euclidean distance.

Target gene prediction of miRNAs

To further explore the function of miRNAs, the target genes (mRNAs) of all miRNAs were predicted by psRobot and TargetFinder. Totally, 7,416 target genes were identified for 450 miRNAs where 897 target genes were confirmed as targets of 116 miRNAs by both softwares. Among these 897 target genes, 305 genes were regulated by 31 differentially expressed miRNAs (Table S7).

GO and KEGG pathway enrichment analysis of target genes

GO enrichment analysis of the above 305 target genes showed that the biological process ontology included 47 GO terms. “Cellular macromolecule metabolic process” and “macromolecule metabolic process” were the most abundant GO terms, containing 77 genes, respectively.

The cellular component ontology included 16 GO terms, and the most abundant terms were “cell” and “cell part”, which contained 115 genes, respectively. The molecular function ontology included 10 GO terms. The GO term “binding” contained 126 genes, which was the most abundant term in molecular function (Fig. 3).

GO classification of predicted target genes of the differentially expressed miRNAs.

Figure 3: GO classification of predicted target genes of the differentially expressed miRNAs.

To explore the possible function of target genes, KEGG pathway enrichment analysis was performed. The 305 target genes of 31 DEMs were distributed in 6 first-level and 33 second-level KEGG pathways, respectively. The first-level KEGG pathway term “metabolism” was the most abundant, including 10 second-level KEGG pathway terms. Thirty-eight target genes were assigned in the second-level KEGG pathway term “signal transduction”, which was the most abundant second-level KEGG pathway term (Fig. 4).

First-level and second-level KEGG pathway classification of predicted target genes of the DEMs.

Figure 4: First-level and second-level KEGG pathway classification of predicted target genes of the DEMs.

Six different first-level KEGG pathway are distinguished in different colors.

Among the enriched top 20 pathways, only two pathways, “plant hormone signal transduction” and “plant-pathogen interaction”, were defined as significantly enriched pathways (P < 0.05), which comprised 24 target genes, respectively (Fig. 5 and Table S8). This indicated that the DEMs between SD92 and SD140 might be involved in plant-pathogen interaction and hormone signal transduction.

Scatterplot of enriched KEGG pathways of predicted target genes of the DEMs.

Figure 5: Scatterplot of enriched KEGG pathways of predicted target genes of the DEMs.

X axis indicates the rich factor. The rich factor is the ratio of DEMs target gene numbers annotated in the pathway term to all gene numbers annotated in the pathway. Y axis indicates KEGG pathways.

Target genes of miRNAs involved in regulation of anthocyanin biosynthesis

Generally, plant miRNAs regulate target mRNAs through two major mechanisms, transcript cleavage and translational inhibition (Chen, 2009), thus there are negative regulation relationship in the expressions of miRNA and corresponding target genes. In our previous study, a comparative transcriptome analysis was performed between SD92 and SD140 (Liu et al., 2018). By combining transcriptome sequencing data (SRA accession number: SRP125987) and miRNA sequencing data of present study, 31 differentially expressed miRNAs and corresponding target mRNAs were identified and listed in Table S9. Among them, the differentially expressed miRNAs negatively regulating target mRNAs were screened, and 140 miRNA-mRNA pairs were confirmed. In these miRNAs-mRNAs pairs, miRNAs contained 5 known miRNA families and 12 novel miRNAs. These mRNAs corresponded to 71 genes (Table 4). These genes mainly encoded transcription factors, quamosa promoter binding protein, hormone response factors, protein kinases and disease resistance protein.

Table 4:

Differentially expressed miRNAs and negatively regulated target genes.

miRNA Target gene Gene annotation
miR156a-5p PGSC0003DMG400022824 Squamosa promoter-binding protein 1-like
miR156a-5p PGSC0003DMG400023962 Uncharacterized protein
miR156a-5p PGSC0003DMG400029156 Cell cycle checkpoint protein RAD17
miR156a-5p PGSC0003DMG400032817 Squamosa promoter-binding protein 1-like
miR156a-5p PGSC0003DMG400034310 Squamosa promoter-binding-like protein 12
miR171b-3p PGSC0003DMG400009015 DEAD-box ATP-dependent RNA helicase 24
miR171b-3p PGSC0003DMG400012683 DELLA protein
miR172b PGSC0003DMG400004006 Floral homeotic protein APETALA 2
miR172b PGSC0003DMG400006604 AP2 transcription factor SlAP2e
miR172b PGSC0003DMG400011046 Ethylene-responsive transcription factor RAP2-7-like
miR172b PGSC0003DMG400012038 Ethylene-responsive transcription factor RAP2-7
miR172b PGSC0003DMG400027904 Floral homeotic protein APETALA 2-like
miR172b PGSC0003DMG400030080 Phosphatidylinositol/phosphatidylcholine transfer protein SFH4
miR172b & miR530b_4 PGSC0003DMG400025479 AP2-like ethylene-responsive transcription factor TOE3
miR172e-5p PGSC0003DMG400010386 Malate dehydrogenase, glyoxysomal
miR172e-5p PGSC0003DMG400011457 Probable WRKY transcription factor 48
miR172e-5p PGSC0003DMG400011477 Putative lysine-specific demethylase JMJ16
miR172e-5p PGSC0003DMG400021020 Uncharacterized protein
miR172e-5p & novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400014214 Uncharacterized protein
miR482e-5p & novel_mir117 PGSC0003DMG400030780 Uncharacterized protein
miR530a PGSC0003DMG400010027 Dof zinc finger protein DOF3.5-like
miR530a PGSC0003DMG400022193 Pirin-like protein
miR530a PGSC0003DMG400030421 Transcription initiation factor IIA large subunit
miR530a PGSC0003DMG400038860 Uncharacterized protein
miR530b_4 PGSC0003DMG400001126 Uncharacterized protein
miR530b_4 PGSC0003DMG400030587 Non-specific lipid-transfer protein 2-like
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400003436 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400007187 Probable protein S-acyltransferase 1
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400009055 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400011113 Putative disease resistance protein RGA3
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400012875 Protein disulfide isomerase-like 1-3
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400016798 Polyadenylate-binding protein 2-like
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400017569 Protein disulfide-isomerase-like
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400027301 Caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase-like
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400032155 Linoleate 13S-lipoxygenase 2-1, chloroplastic
novel_mir32 PGSC0003DMG400043688 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir42 PGSC0003DMG400008897 L-type lectin-domain containing receptor kinase IV.1-like
novel_mir54 PGSC0003DMG400032120 UPF0496 protein At3g19330-like
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG400004296 Late blight resistance protein homolog R1B-16
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG400004756 Late blight resistance protein homolog R1A-10
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG400007867 Disease resistance protein RGH3
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG400007870 Late blight resistance protein homolog R1A-3
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG400007872 Late blight resistance protein homolog R1C-3
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG400031244 THUMP domain-containing protein 1 homolog
novel_mir61 PGSC0003DMG402007871 Disease resistance protein RGH3
novel_mir67 PGSC0003DMG400008560 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir67 PGSC0003DMG400017053 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir67 PGSC0003DMG400030551 Multicopper oxidase LPR2
novel_mir75 PGSC0003DMG400003887 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir75 PGSC0003DMG400009731 Probable S-adenosylmethionine-dependent methyltransferase
novel_mir75 PGSC0003DMG400017312 RING finger protein 44
novel_mir75 PGSC0003DMG400025978 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir78 PGSC0003DMG400000774 RNA-binding protein 2
novel_mir89 PGSC0003DMG400006945 Senescence-associated carboxylesterase 101-like
novel_mir105 & novel_mir143 PGSC0003DMG402007414 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir117 PGSC0003DMG400020645 ycf54-like protein
novel_mir117 PGSC0003DMG400026383 Probable receptor-like protein kinase
novel_mir117 PGSC0003DMG400031180 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir128 PGSC0003DMG400034633 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir128 PGSC0003DMG400037457 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir128 PGSC0003DMG400043850 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400000513 Galactinol-sucrose galactosyltransferase 5
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400002541 60S ribosomal protein L37-3
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400004826 Ethylene-responsive transcription factor ERF039-like
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400007189 Proteasome subunit alpha type-3-like, partial
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400008432 Uncharacterized protein
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400012159 KAT8 regulatory NSL complex subunit 3
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400018279 Transcription factor MYB35-like
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400018811 LRR receptor-like serine/threonine-protein kinase ERECTA
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400024795 LRR receptor-like serine/threonine-protein kinase RCH1
novel_mir170 PGSC0003DMG400033933 Hypothetical protein SDM1_41t00024
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/table-4

Transcription factors affect anthocyanin biosynthesis by regulating the expressions of structural genes (D’Amelia et al., 2014; Liu et al., 2016). In this study, we focused on the regulation of miRNA on transcription factors in anthocyanin biosynthesis (Table 4). PGSC0003DMG400006604, PGSC0003DMG400011046 and PGSC0003DMG400012038, which were regulated by miR172b, encoded AP2 transcription factor SlAP2e, RAP2-7-like and RAP2-7, respectively. The target gene of miR530b_4, PGSC0003DMG400025479, encoded AP2-like transcription factor TOE3. PGSC0003DMG400011457 encoded WRKY transcription factor 48 and was regulated by miR172e-5p. Both PGSC0003DMG400004826 and PGSC0003DMG400018279, which were regulated by novel_mir170, encoded transcription factor ERF039-like and MYB35-like, respectively.

Hormones improve the biosynthesis of anthocyanins (Zhang et al., 2011; Palma-Silva et al., 2016), so we did research on miRNA regulating hormones in this experiment in order to throw light on miRNA regulation mechanism on anthocyanins biosynthesis. In this study, RAP2-7 and RAP2-7-like, which were regulated by miR172b, were ethylene-responsive transcription factors. TOE3 transcription factor, which was regulated by miR172b and miR530b_4, was also responsive to ethylene (Table 4). The target gene of miR171b-3p, PGSC0003DMG400012683, encoded the DELLA protein that was an inhibitor of GA signal transduction.

Protein kinases are involved in anthocyanin biosynthesis (Li et al., 2016). Protein kinases regulated by miRNA were investigated in this study. Both PGSC0003DMG400018811 and PGSC0003DMG400024795, which were regulated by novel_mir170, encoded LRR receptor-like serine/threonine protein kinase ERECTA and RCH1, respectively. PGSC0003DMG400026383 encoded receptor-like protein kinase and was regulated by novel_mir117.

There were also significant changes in the expression of target genes regulated by other miRNAs, such as PGSC0003DMG402007414, which was target gene of novel_mir105 and novel_mir143, but the gene function was unknown.


Generally, miRNAs play an important role in some kinds of plant biological processes such as growth, development and stress response (Jones-Rhoades, Bartel & Bartel, 2006). The functions of miRNAs in plant anthocyanin biosynthesis have been reported in some species, including Arabidopsis (Gou et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2016), apple (Hu et al., 2021), grape (Tirumalai et al., 2019), tomato (Jia et al., 2015), sweet potato (He et al., 2019) and kiwi fruit (Li et al., 2019).

In this study, miR399 and miR172 families were the two largest differentially expressed miRNA families. The expressions of miR399 family (miR399a_6, miR399i, miR399j_2) and miR172 family (miR172e-5p, miR172b) were down-regulated in SD140. miR172 inhibits flavonoid biosynthesis through suppressing the expression of an AP2 transcription factor that positively regulates MdMYB10 (Ding et al., 2022). In SD140, miR172b was down-regulated, and its target gene encoding AP2-like factor was up-regulated, indicating that miR172b regulated the change in anthocyanin biosynthesis from petunidin to pelargonidin through AP2-like factor. Both miR399 expression and anthocyanin accumulation are increased under Pi-deficiency conditions (Chen et al., 2018; Hsieh et al., 2009). miR399 is related to anthocyanin accumulation. However, the target gene of miR399 was unknown in SD92 and SD140, so the regulation mechanism of miR399 in anthocyanin biosynthesis remains unclear and needs further study.

miR171 family (miR171a-3p, miR171b-3p, miR171b-3p_2) was up-regulated in SD140 (Table S6). miR171 is down-regulated and anthocyanin accumulation is up-regulated under water deficit (Ghorecha et al., 2014). miR171 is related with anthocyanin accumulation. The target gene of miR171b-3p, PGSC0003DMG400012683, encoded DELLA protein. DELLA proteins are important repressors of GA signaling (Chai et al., 2022; Sukiran et al., 2022). Plant hormones are involved in anthocyanin biosynthesis, such as auxin (Ji et al., 2015; Liu, Shi & Xie, 2014), abscisic acid (ABA) (Balint & Reynolds, 2013; Leão et al., 2014) and gibberellic acid (GA) (Loreti et al., 2008). GA represses the sucrose accumulation in anthocyanin synthesis (Loreti et al., 2008) and decreases anthocyanin accumulation under low temperature or phosphate starvation (Jiang et al., 2007; Zhang et al., 2011). Moreover, the KEGG pathway “plant hormone signal transduction” comprising of 24 target genes was significantly enriched in this study, which suggested that plant hormones were involved in the anthocyanin biosynthesis in SD92 and SD140. Thus, it indicated that miR171b-3p probably regulated the change of anthocyanin biosynthesis in SD92 and SD140 through DELLA protein.

miR828 are frequently reported to be involved in anthocyanin biosynthesis regulation (Bonar et al., 2018; Tirumalai et al., 2019). In potato, miR828 is associated with purple tuber skin and flesh color rich in anthocyanin. One member of miR828 family, miR828a_1, was identified in SD92 and SD140, but was not significantly expressed differentially between SD92 and SD140. These results indicated that miR828a_1 might not regulate the change of anthocyanin biosynthesis between SD92 and SD140.

The accumulation of anthocyanin is reported to be related with miR156 (Gou et al., 2011). In this study, miRNA156 was differentially expressed between SD92 and SD140. Its target gene mainly encoded squamosa promoter binding protein and cell cycle checkpoint protein RAD17. These target genes regulated by miR156a-5p need further study in anthocyanin biosynthesis.

A novel miRNA, novel_mir170, was down-regulated in SD140 (4.81 vs 0.14). It regulated a number of target genes, which mainly encoded protein kinase, ethylene responsive transcription factor ERF039-like and transcription factor MYB35-like. Protein kinases play an important role in anthocyanin biosynthesis. Plant sucrose-nonfermenting 1 (SNF1)-related protein kinase is involved in anthocyanin accumulation regulated by MdbHLH3 (Liu et al., 2017; Shen et al., 2017). Anthocyanin biosynthesis is regulated by mitogen-activated protein kinase (Luo et al., 2017; Wersch, Gao & Zhang, 2018). In this experiment, the two target genes of novel_mir170 encoding LRR receptor-like serine/threonine-protein kinase were up-regulated, which were consistent with the metabolism data (Liu et al., 2022). These results showed that novel_mir170 regulated the change of anthocyanin biosynthesis through LRR receptor-like serine/threonine-protein kinase in SD92 and SD140. MYB transcription factor can regulate the biosynthesis of anthocyanin by regulating the expression of structural genes (D’Amelia et al., 2014). The target gene of novel_mir170, which encoded MYB transcription factor, was up-regulated. These results showed that novel_mir170 regulated the anthocyanin biosynthesis by regulating the expression of MYB. Ethylene is closely related to the biosynthesis of anthocyanin (Chen et al., 2022; Jeong et al., 2010). In this study, the target gene of novel_mir170 encoding ethylene responsive transcription factor ERF039 was up-regulated. These results indicated that novel_mir170 regulated anthocyanin biosynthesis by up-regulating the expression of ethylene responsive transcription factor. In conclusion, novel_mir170 was an important novel miRNA identified in this study and might be an important miRNA for regulation of anthocyanin biosynthesis.


A comparative small RNA sequencing analysis between purple potato and its mutant revealed that there were 179 differentially expressed miRNAs, consisting of 65 up- and 114 down-regulated miRNAs, respectively. miR399 and miR172 families were the two largest differentially expressed miRNA families. A total of 31 differentially expressed miRNAs were predicted to potentially regulate 305 target genes. The miRNA sequencing data and the transcriptome data showed that miR171 family and miR172 family regulated the change in anthocyanin biosynthesis from petunidin to pelargonidin through DELLA protein and AP2-like transcription factor, respectively. A novel miRNA, novel_mir170, regulated anthocyanin biosynthesis by serine/threonine-protein kinase and MYB transcription factor.

Supplemental Information

Length distributions of small RNAs from six libraries

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-1

Alignment statistics of tags aligned to reference genome

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-2

Classification of small RNAs in six potato libraries

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-3

Total known miRNAs across the six libraries

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-4

Total novel miRNAs across the six libraries

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-5

Differentially expressed miRNAs between SD92 and SD140

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-6

Target gene prediction of differentially expressed miRNAs

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-7

Top 20 of the enrichment pathways

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-8

Expression of differentially expressed miRNAs and corresponding target genes

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-9

Ct values of miRNAs in RT-qPCR

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-10

Nucleotide distribution bias of predicted (A) known miRNAs and (B) novel miRNAs

X axis indicates the nucleotide positions of miRNAs. Y axis indicates the percent of 4 nucleotides at each nucleotide position. A, known miRNAs; B, novel miRNAs.

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.15349/supp-11

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