Although the number of plant U1, U2, U4 and U5 small nuclear RNA (snRNA) variants sequenced has steadily increased over the past few years, the function of these variants in plant splicing is still not understood. In an effort to elucidate the function of plant snRNA variants, we have examined the expression of U1 - U6 snRNA variants during pea seedling development. In contrast to mammalian nuclei which express a single, abundant form of each snRNA, pea nuclei express several equally abundant variants of the same snRNA. Comparison of the snRNAs in pea seeds and seedlings has revealed that four (U1, U2, U4, U5) of the five snRNAs required for pre-mRNA splicing have differentially- and developmentally-regulated forms detectable on Northerns. Only U6 snRNA, which fractionates as a single species on Northerns, appears to be constitutively expressed. Switches in the expression of the pea U1, U2 and U4 snRNAs occur at three distinct stages in development: seed maturation, seed germination and seedling maturation. Surprisingly, the snRNA profiles of mature desiccated seeds and mature leaf tissues are nearly identical and different from developing seeds and seedlings suggesting that switches in the snRNA population occur at transitions between active and inactive transcription. Sequence analysis and differential hybridization of the U1 snRNA variants has demonstrated that some of the developmentally-regulated forms represent sequencevariants. We conclude that select subsets of pea snRNAs accumulate at particular stages during plant development.
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