Innate, translation-dependent silencing of an invasive transposon in Arabidopsis

Oberlin, Stefan; Rajeswaran, Rajendran; Trasser, Marieke; Barragán-Borrero, Verónica; Schon, Michael A.; Plotnikova, Alexandra; Loncsek, Lukas; Nodine, Michael D.; Marí-Ordóñez, Arturo; Voinnet, Olivier


Co-evolution between hosts’ and parasites’ genomes shapes diverse pathways of acquired immunity based on silencing small (s)RNAs. In plants, sRNAs cause heterochromatinization, sequence degeneration, and, ultimately, loss of autonomy of most transposable elements (TEs). Recognition of newly invasive plant TEs, by contrast, involves an innate antiviral-like silencing response. To investigate this response’s activation, we studied the single-copy element EVADÉ (EVD), one of few representatives of the large Ty1/Copia family able to proliferate in Arabidopsis when epigenetically reactivated. In Ty1/Copia elements, a short subgenomic mRNA (shGAG) provides the necessary excess of structural GAG protein over the catalytic components encoded by the full-length genomic flGAG-POL. We show here that the predominant cytosolic distribution of shGAG strongly favors its translation over mostly nuclear flGAG-POL. During this process, an unusually intense ribosomal stalling event coincides with mRNA breakage yielding unconventional 5’OH RNA fragments that evade RNA quality control. The starting point of sRNA production by RNA-DEPENDENT-RNA-POLYMERASE-6 (RDR6), exclusively on shGAG, occurs precisely at this breakage point. This hitherto-unrecognized “translation-dependent silencing” (TdS) is independent of codon usage or GC content and is not observed on TE remnants populating the Arabidopsis genome, consistent with their poor association, if any, with polysomes. We propose that TdS forms a primal defense against EVD de novo invasions that underlies its associated sRNA pattern.