Low abundant spacer 5S rRNA transcripts are frequently polyadenylated in Nicotiana
In plants, 5S rRNA genes (5S rDNA) encoding 120-nt structural RNA molecules of ribosomes are organized in tandem arrays comprising thousands of units. Failure to correctly terminate transcription would generate longer inaccurately processed transcripts interfering with ribosome biogenesis. Hence multiple termination signals occur immediately after the 5S rRNA coding sequence. To obtain information about the efficiency of termination of 5S rDNA transcription in plants we analyzed 5S rRNA pools in three Nicotiana species, N. sylvestris, N. tomentosiformis and N. tabacum. In addition to highly abundant 120-nt 5S rRNA transcripts, we also detected RNA species composed of a genic region and variable lengths of intergenic sequences. These genic-intergenic RNA molecules occur at a frequency severalfold lower than the mature 120-nt transcripts, and are posttranscriptionally modified by polyadenylation at their 3' end in contrast to 120-nt transcripts. An absence of 5S small RNAs (smRNA) argue against a dominant role for the smRNA biosynthesis pathway in the degradation of aberrant 5S rRNA in Nicotiana. This work is the first description of polyadenylated 5S rRNA species in higher eukaryotes originating from a read-through transcription into the intergenic spacer. We propose that polyadenylation may function in a "quality control" pathway ensuring that only correctly processed molecules enter the ribosome biogenesis.