The RNA exosome is the major 3′-5′ RNA degradation machine of eukaryotic cells and participates in processing, surveillance and turnover of both nuclear and cytoplasmic RNA. In both yeast and human, all nuclear functions of the exosome require the RNA helicase MTR4. We show that the Arabidopsis core exosome can associate with two related RNA helicases, AtMTR4 and HEN2. Reciprocal co-immunoprecipitation shows that each of the RNA helicases co-purifies with the exosome core complex and with distinct sets of specific proteins. While AtMTR4 is a predominantly nucleolar protein, HEN2 is located in the nucleoplasm and appears to be excluded from nucleoli. We have previously shown that the major role of AtMTR4 is the degradation of rRNA precursors and rRNA maturation by-products. Here, we demonstrate that HEN2 is involved in the degradation of a large number of polyadenylated nuclear exosome substrates such as snoRNA and miRNA precursors, incompletely spliced mRNAs, and spurious transcripts produced from pseudogenes and intergenic regions. Only a weak accumulation of these exosome substrate targets is observed in mtr4 mutants, suggesting that MTR4 can contribute, but plays rather a minor role for the degradation of non-ribosomal RNAs and cryptic transcripts in Arabidopsis. Consistently, transgene post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) is marginally affected in mtr4 mutants, but increased in hen2 mutants, suggesting that it is mostly the nucleoplasmic exosome that degrades aberrant transgene RNAs to limit their entry in the PTGS pathway. Interestingly, HEN2 is conserved throughout green algae, mosses and land plants but absent from metazoans and other eukaryotic lineages. Our data indicate that, in contrast to human and yeast, plants have two functionally specialized RNA helicases that assist the exosome in the degradation of specific nucleolar and nucleoplasmic RNA populations, respectively.
Cells rely on a number of RNA degradation pathways to ensure correct and timely processing and turnover of both coding and non-coding RNAs. Another important function of RNA degradation is the rapid elimination of misprocessed RNA species, maturation by-products, and nonfunctional RNAs that are frequently produced by pervasive transcription. The main 3′-5′ RNA degradation machine in eukaryotic cells is the exosome, which is activated by cofactors such as RNA helicases. In yeast and human, processing, turnover and surveillance of all nuclear exosome targets depend on a single RNA helicase, MTR4. We show here that the Arabidopsis exosome complex can associate with two related RNA helicases, MTR4 and HEN2. MTR4 and HEN2 reside in nucleolar and nucleoplasmic compartments, respectively, and target different subsets of nuclear RNA substrates for degradation by the exosome. The presence of both MTR4 and HEN2 homologues in green algae, mosses and land plants suggest that the functional duality of exosome-associated RNA helicases is evolutionarily conserved in the entire green lineage. The emerging picture is that, despite a high degree of sequence conservation, intracellular distribution, activities and functions of exosome cofactors vary considerably among different eukaryotes.