Background: MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play a vital role in growth, development, and stress response at the post-transcriptional level. Broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. var italic) is an important vegetable crop, and the yield and quality of broccoli are decreased by heat stress. The broccoli inbred lines that are capable of producing head at high temperature in summer are unique varieties in Taiwan. However, knowledge of miRNAomes during the broccoli head formation under heat stress is limited. Methods: In this study, molecular characterization of two nearly isogenic lines with contrasting head-forming capacity was investigated. Head-forming capacity was better for heat-tolerant (HT) than heat-sensitive (HS) broccoli under heat stress. Results: By deep sequencing and computational analysis, 20 known miRNAs showed significant differential expression between HT and HS genotypes. According to the criteria for annotation of new miRNAs, 24 novel miRNA sequences with differential expression between the two genotypes were identified. To gain insight into functional significance, 213 unique potential targets of these 44 differentially expressed miRNAs were predicted. These targets were implicated in shoot apical development, phase change, response to temperature stimulus, hormone and energy metabolism. The head-forming capacity of the unique HT line was related to autonomous regulation of Bo-FT genes and less expression level of heat shock protein genes as compared to HS. For the genotypic comparison, a set of miRNAs and their targets had consistent expression patterns in various HT genotypes. Conclusions: This large-scale characterization of broccoli miRNAs and their potential targets is to unravel the regulatory roles of miRNAs underlying heat-tolerant head-forming capacity.
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