Widespread antisense transcription of Populus genome under drought

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Antisense transcription is widespread in many genomes and plays important regulatory roles in gene expression. The objective of our study was to investigate the extent and functional relevance of antisense transcription in forest trees. We employed Populus, a model tree species, to probe the antisense transcriptional response of tree genome under drought, through stranded RNA-seq analysis. We detected nearly 48% of annotated Populus gene loci with antisense transcripts and 44% of them with co-transcription from both DNA strands. Global distribution of reads pattern across annotated gene regions uncovered that antisense transcription was enriched in untranslated regions while sense reads were predominantly mapped in coding exons. We further detected 1185 drought-responsive sense and antisense gene loci and identified a strong positive correlation between the expression of antisense and sense transcripts. Additionally, we assessed the antisense expression in introns and found a strong correlation between intronic expression and exonic expression, confirming antisense transcription of introns contributes to transcriptional activity of Populus genome under drought. Finally, we functionally characterized drought-responsive sense–antisense transcript pairs through gene ontology analysis and discovered that functional groups including transcription factors and histones were concordantly regulated at both sense and antisense transcriptional level. Overall, our study demonstrated the extensive occurrence of antisense transcripts of Populus genes under drought and provided insights into genome structure, regulation pattern and functional significance of drought-responsive antisense genes in forest trees. Datasets generated in this study serve as a foundation for future genetic analysis to improve our understanding of gene regulation by antisense transcription.

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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00438-018-1456-z

Publication Title

Molecular Genetics and Genomics