Plants are unique among eukaryotes in having five multi-subunit nuclear RNA polymerases: the ubiquitous RNA polymerases I, II and III plus two plant-specific activities, nuclear RNA polymerases IV and V (previously known as Polymerases IVa and IVb). Pol IV and Pol V are not required for viability but play non-redundant roles in small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated pathways, including a pathway that silences retrotransposons and endogenous repeats via siRNAdirected DNA methylation. RNA polymerase activity has not been demonstrated for Polymerases IV or V in vitro, making it unclear whether they are catalytically active enzymes. Their largest and second-largest subunit sequences have diverged considerably from Pol I, II and III in the vicinity of the catalytic center, yet retain the invariant Metal A and Metal B amino acid motifs that bind magnesium ions essential for RNA polymerization. By using site-directed mutagenesis in conjunction with in vivo functional assays, we show that the Metal A and Metal B motifs of Polymerases IV and V are essential for siRNA production, siRNA-directed DNA methylation, retrotransposon silencing, and the punctate nuclear localization patterns typical of both polymerases. Collectively, these data show that the minimal core sequences of polymerase active sites, th
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