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Identification and characterization of microRNAs related to salt stress in broccoli, using high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics analysis

Yunhong Tian12, Yunming Tian34, Xiaojun Luo1, Tao Zhou2, Zuoping Huang2, Ying Liu2, Yihan Qiu2, Bing Hou2, Dan Sun2, Hongyu Deng1, Shen Qian2 and Kaitai Yao1*

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Research Institute, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, People¿s Republic of China

2 Department of Oncology, Armed Police Hospital of Guangdong Province, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, People¿s Republic of China

3 State Key Laboratory of Oncology of Southern China, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, People¿s Republic of China

4 Department of Radiation Oncology, Cancer Center of Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, People¿s Republic of China

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BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:226  doi:10.1186/s12870-014-0226-2

Published: 3 September 2014



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a new class of endogenous regulators of a broad range of physiological processes, which act by regulating gene expression post-transcriptionally. The brassica vegetable, broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica), is very popular with a wide range of consumers, but environmental stresses such as salinity are a problem worldwide in restricting its growth and yield. Little is known about the role of miRNAs in the response of broccoli to salt stress. In this study, broccoli subjected to salt stress and broccoli grown under control conditions were analyzed by high-throughput sequencing. Differential miRNA expression was confirmed by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The prediction of miRNA targets was undertaken using the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) Orthology (KO) database and Gene Ontology (GO)-enrichment analyses.


Two libraries of small (or short) RNAs (sRNAs) were constructed and sequenced by high-throughput Solexa sequencing. A total of 24,511,963 and 21,034,728 clean reads, representing 9,861,236 (40.23%) and 8,574,665 (40.76%) unique reads, were obtained for control and salt-stressed broccoli, respectively. Furthermore, 42 putative known and 39 putative candidate miRNAs that were differentially expressed between control and salt-stressed broccoli were revealed by their read counts and confirmed by the use of stem-loop real-time RT-PCR. Amongst these, the putative conserved miRNAs, miR393 and miR855, and two putative candidate miRNAs, miR3 and miR34, were the most strongly down-regulated when broccoli was salt-stressed, whereas the putative conserved miRNA, miR396a, and the putative candidate miRNA, miR37, were the most up-regulated. Finally, analysis of the predicted gene targets of miRNAs using the GO and KO databases indicated that a range of metabolic and other cellular functions known to be associated with salt stress were up-regulated in broccoli treated with salt.


A comprehensive study of broccoli miRNA in relation to salt stress has been performed. We report significant data on the miRNA profile of broccoli that will underpin further studies on stress responses in broccoli and related species. The differential regulation of miRNAs between control and salt-stressed broccoli indicates that miRNAs play an integral role in the regulation of responses to salt stress.

Broccoli; Salt stress; High-throughput sequencing; microRNA