• Arabidopsis;
  • flower;
  • intron;
  • transcriptome;
  • translation

Determining both the expression levels of mRNA and the regulation of its translation is important in understanding specialized cell functions. In this study, we describe both the expression profiles of cells within spatiotemporal domains of the Arabidopsis thaliana flower and the post-transcriptional regulation of these mRNAs, at nucleotide resolution. We express a tagged ribosomal protein under the promoters of three master regulators of flower development. By precipitating tagged polysomes, we isolated cell type-specific mRNAs that are probably translating, and quantified those mRNAs through deep sequencing. Cell type comparisons identified known cell-specific transcripts and uncovered many new ones, from which we inferred cell type-specific hormone responses, promoter motifs and coexpressed cognate binding factor candidates, and splicing isoforms. By comparing translating mRNAs with steady-state overall transcripts, we found evidence for widespread post-transcriptional regulation at both the intron splicing and translational stages. Sequence analyses identified structural features associated with each step. Finally, we identified a new class of noncoding RNAs associated with polysomes. Findings from our profiling lead to new hypotheses in the understanding of flower development.


What constitutes a differentiated cell type? How much do cell types differ in their transcription of genes? The development and functions of tissues rely on constant interactions among distinct and nonequivalent cell types. Answering these questions will require quantitative information on transcriptomes, proteomes, protein–protein interactions, protein–nucleic acid interactions, and metabolomes at cellular resolution. The systems approaches emerging in biology promise to explain properties of biological systems based on genome-wide measurements of expression, interaction, regulation, and metabolism. To facilitate a systems approach, it is essential first to capture such components in a global manner, ideally at cellular resolution.

Recently, microarray analysis of transcriptomes has been extended to a cellular level of resolution by using laser microdissection or fluorescence-activated sorting (for review, see Nelson et al, 2008). These methods have been limited by stresses associated with cellular separation and isolation procedures, and biases associated with mandatory RNA amplification steps. A newly developed method, translating ribosome affinity purification (TRAP; Zanetti et al, 2005; Heiman et al, 2008; Mustroph et al, 2009), circumvents these problems by epitopetagging a ribosomal protein in specific cellular domains to selectively purify polysomes. We combined TRAP with deep sequencing, which we term TRAP-seq, to provide cell-level spatiotemporal maps for Arabidopsis early floral development at single-base resolution.

Flower development in Arabidopsis has been studied extensively and is one of the best understood aspects of plant development (for review, see Krizek and Fletcher, 2005). Genetic analysis of homeotic mutants established the ABC model, in which three classes of regulatory genes, A, B and C, work in a combinatorial manner to confer organ identities of four whorls (Coen and Meyerowitz, 1991). Each class of regulatory gene is expressed in a specific and evolutionarily conserved domain, and the action of the class A, B and C genes is necessary for specification of organ identity (Figure 1A).

Using TRAP-seq, we purified cell-specific translating mRNA populations, which we and others call the translatome, from the A, B and C domains of early developing flowers, in which floral patterning and the specification of floral organs is established. To achieve temporal specificity, we used a floral induction system to facilitate collection of early stage flowers (Wellmer et al, 2006). The combination of TRAP-seq with domain-specific promoters and this floral induction system enabled fine spatiotemporal isolation of translating mRNA in specific cellular domains, and at specific developmental stages.

Multiple lines of evidence confirmed the specificity of this approach, including detecting the expression in expected domains but not in other domains for well-studied flower marker genes and known physiological functions (Figures 1B–D and 2A–C). Furthermore, we provide numerous examples from flower development in which a spatiotemporal map of rigorously comparable cell-specific translatomes makes possible new views of the properties of cell domains not evident in data obtained from whole organs or tissues, including patterns of transcription and cis-regulation, new physiological differences among cell domains and between flower stages, putative hormone-active centers, and splicing events specific for flower domains (Figure 2A–D). Such findings may provide new targets for reverse genetics studies and may aid in the formulation and validation of interaction and pathway networks.

Beside cellular heterogeneity, the transcriptome is regulated at several steps through the life of mRNA molecules, which are not directly available through traditional transcriptome profiling of total mRNA abundance. By comparing the translatome and transcriptome, we integratively profiled two key posttranscriptional control points, intron splicing and translation state. From our translatome-wide profiling, we (i) confirmed that both posttranscriptional regulation control points were used by a large portion of the transcriptome; (ii) identified a number of cis-acting features within the coding or noncoding sequences that correlate with splicing or translation state; and (iii) revealed correlation between each regulation mechanism and gene function. Our transcriptome-wide surveys have highlighted target genes transcripts of which are probably under extensive posttranscriptional regulation during flower development.

Finally, we reported the finding of a large number of polysome-associated ncRNAs. About one-third of all annotated ncRNA in the Arabidopsis genome were observed co-purified with polysomes. Coding capacity analysis confirmed that most of them are real ncRNA without conserved ORFs. The group of polysome-associated ncRNA reported in this study is a potential new addition to the expanding riboregulator catalog; they could have roles in translational regulation during early flower development.