PIF7 is a master regulator of thermomorphogenesis in shade

Y Burko, BC Willige, A Seluzicki, O Novák, K Ljung, J Chory

Nature Communications 13 (1), 4942

The size of plant organs is highly responsive to environmental conditions. The plant’s embryonic stem, or hypocotyl, displays phenotypic plasticity, in response to light and temperature. The hypocotyl of shade avoiding species elongates to outcompete neighboring plants and secure access to sunlight. Similar elongation occurs in high temperature. However, it is poorly understood how environmental light and temperature cues interact to effect plant growth. We found that shade combined with warm temperature produces a synergistic hypocotyl growth response that dependent on PHYTOCHROME-INTERACTING FACTOR 7 (PIF7) and auxin. This unique but agriculturally relevant scenario was almost totally independent on PIF4 activity. We show that warm temperature is sufficient to promote PIF7 DNA binding but not transcriptional activation and we demonstrate that additional, unknown factor/s must be working downstream of the phyB-PIF-auxin module. Our findings will improve the predictions of how plants will respond to increased ambient temperatures when grown at high density. 

PHYTOCHROME-INTERACTING FACTORs trigger environmentally responsive chromatin dynamics in plants

BC Willige, M Zander, CY Yoo, A Phan, RM Garza, SA Wanamaker, Y He, ...

Nature genetics 53 (7), 955-961

The interplay between light receptors and PHYTOCHROME-INTERACTING FACTORs (PIFs) serves as a regulatory hub that perceives and integrates environmental cues into transcriptional networks of plants. Although occupancy of the histone variant H2A.Z and acetylation of histone H3 have emerged as regulators of environmentally responsive gene networks, how these epigenomic features interface with PIF activity is poorly understood. By taking advantage of rapid and reversible light-mediated manipulation of PIF7 subnuclear localization and phosphorylation, we simultaneously assayed the DNA-binding properties of PIF7, as well as its impact on chromatin dynamics genome wide. We found that PIFs act rapidly to reshape the H2A.Z and H3K9ac epigenetic landscape in response to a change in light quality. Furthermore, we discovered that PIFs achieve H2A.Z removal through direct interaction with EIN6 ENHANCER (EEN), the Arabidopsis thaliana homolog of the chromatin remodeling complex subunit INO80 Subunit 6 (Ies6). Thus, we describe a PIF–INO80 regulatory module that is an intermediate step for allowing plants to change their growth trajectory in response to environmental changes. 

HY5 and phytochrome activity modulate shoot-to-root coordination during thermomorphogenesis in Arabidopsis

C Gaillochet, Y Burko, MP Platre, L Zhang, J Simura, BC Willige, ...

Development 147 (24), dev192625

Temperature is one of the most impactful environmental factors to which plants adjust their growth and development. Although the regulation of temperature signaling has been extensively investigated for the aerial part of plants, much less is known and understood about how roots sense and modulate their growth in response to fluctuating temperatures. Here, we found that shoot and root growth responses to high ambient temperature are coordinated during early seedling development in Arabidopsis. A shoot signaling module that includes HY5, the phytochromes and the PIFs exerts a central function in coupling these growth responses and maintaining auxin levels in the root. In addition to the HY5/PIF-dependent shoot module, a regulatory axis composed of auxin biosynthesis and auxin perception factors controls root responses to high ambient temperature. Taken together, our findings show that shoot and root developmental responses to temperature are tightly coupled during thermomorphogenesis and suggest that roots integrate energy signals with local hormonal inputs. 

Epigenetic silencing of a multifunctional plant stress regulator

M Zander, BC Willige, Y He, TA Nguyen, AE Langford, R Nehring, ...

Elife 8, e47835

The central regulator of the ethylene (ET) signaling pathway, which controls a plethora of developmental programs and responses to environmental cues in plants, is ETHYLENE-INSENSITIVE2 (EIN2). Here we identify a chromatin-dependent regulatory mechanism at EIN2 requiring two genes: ETHYLENE-INSENSITIVE6 (EIN6), which is a H3K27me3 demethylase also known as RELATIVE OF EARLY FLOWERING6 (REF6), and EIN6 ENHANCER (EEN), the Arabidopsis homolog of the yeast INO80 chromatin remodeling complex subunit IES6 (INO EIGHTY SUBUNIT). Strikingly, EIN6 (REF6) and the INO80 complex redundantly control the level and the localization of the repressive histone modification H3K27me3 and the histone variant H2A.Z at the 5’ untranslated region (5’UTR) intron of EIN2. Concomitant loss of EIN6 (REF6) and the INO80 complex shifts the chromatin landscape at EIN2 to a repressive state causing a dramatic reduction of EIN2 expression. These results uncover a unique type of chromatin regulation which safeguards the expression of an essential multifunctional plant stress regulator. 

BRASSINOSTEROID-SIGNALING KINASE 3, a plasma membrane-associated scaffold protein involved in early brassinosteroid signaling

H Ren, BC Willige, Y Jaillais, S Geng, MY Park, WM Gray, J Chory

PLoS genetics 15 (1), e1007904

Brassinosteroids (BRs) are steroid hormones essential for plant growth and development. The BR signaling pathway has been studied in some detail, however, the functions of the BRASSINOSTEROID-SIGNALING KINASE (BSK) family proteins in the pathway have remained elusive. Through forward genetics, we identified five semi-dominant mutations in the BSK3 gene causing BSK3 loss-of-function and decreased BR responses. We therefore investigated the function of BSK3, a receptor-like cytoplasmic kinase, in BR signaling and plant growth and development. We find that BSK3 is anchored to the plasma membrane via N-myristoylation, which is required for its function in BR signaling. The N-terminal kinase domain is crucial for BSK3 function, and the C-terminal three tandem TPR motifs contribute to BSK3/BSK3 homodimer and BSK3/BSK1 heterodimer formation. Interestingly, the effects of BSK3 on BR responses are dose-dependent, depending on its protein levels. Our genetic studies indicate that kinase dead BSK3K86R protein partially rescues the bsk3-1 mutant phenotypes. BSK3 directly interacts with the BSK family proteins (BSK3 and BSK1), BRI1 receptor kinase, BSU1 phosphatase, and BIN2 kinase. BIN2 phosphorylation of BSK3 enhances BSK3/BSK3 homodimer and BSK3/BSK1 heterodimer formation, BSK3/BRI1 interaction, and BSK3/BSU1 interaction. Furthermore, we find that BSK3 upregulates BSU1 transcript and protein levels to activate BR signaling. BSK3 is broadly expressed and plays an important role in BR-mediated root growth, shoot growth, and organ separation. Together, our findings suggest that BSK3 may function as a scaffold protein to regulate BR signaling. The results of our studies provide new insights into early BR signaling mechanisms. 

Next Generation of Plant-Associated Bacterial Genome Data

BC Willige, J Chory, M Bürger

Cell host & microbe 24 (1), 10-11

Plants interact with numerous pathogenic and beneficial bacteria. In this issue of Cell Host & Microbe, Karasov et al. (2018) and Garrido-Oter et al. (2018) use NextGen sequencing and data analysis from more than 2,000 bacterial genomes to draw hypotheses about interactions and evolution of microbes with their plant hosts. 

Several Pseudomonas and Xanthomonas species are plant pathogens that infect the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana and important crops such as Brassica. Resistant plants contain the infection by rapid cell death of the infected area through the hypersensitive response (HR). A family of highly related α/β hydrolases is involved in diverse processes in all domains of life. Functional details of their catalytic machinery, however, remained unclear. We report the crystal structures of α/β hydrolases representing two different clades of the family, including the protein SOBER1, which suppresses AvrBsT-incited HR in Arabidopsis. Our results reveal a unique hydrophobic anchor mechanism that defines a previously unknown family of protein deacetylases. Furthermore, this study identifies a lid-loop as general feature for substrate turnover in acyl-protein thioesterases and the described family of deacetylases. Furthermore, we found that SOBER1’s biological function is not restricted to Arabidopsis thaliana and not limited to suppress HR induced by AvrBsT. 

Despite their sessile lifestyle, seed plants are able to utilize differential growth rates to move their organs in response to their environment. Asymmetrical growth is the cause for the formation and maintenance of the apical hook—a structure of dicotyledonous plants shaped by the bended hypocotyl that eases the penetration through the covering soil. As predicted by the Cholodny–Went theory, the cause for differential growth is the unequal distribution of the phytohormone auxin. The PIN-FORMED proteins transport auxin from cell-to-cell and control the distribution of auxin in the plant. Their localization and activity are regulated by two subfamilies of AGCVIII protein kinases: the D6 PROTEIN KINASEs as well as PINOID and its two closely related WAG kinases. This mini-review focuses on the regulatory mechanism of these AGCVIII kinases as well as their role in apical hook development of Arabidopsis thaliana. 

D6 PROTEIN KINASE activates auxin transport-dependent growth and PIN-FORMED phosphorylation at the plasma membrane

ICR Barbosa, M Zourelidou, BC Willige, B Weller, C Schwechheimer

Developmental Cell 29 (6), 674-685

The directed cell-to-cell transport of the phytohormone auxin by efflux and influx transporters is essential for proper plant growth and development. Like auxin efflux facilitators of the PIN-FORMED (PIN) family, D6 PROTEIN KINASE (D6PK) from Arabidopsis thaliana localizes to the basal plasma membrane of many cells, and evidence exists that D6PK may directly phosphorylate PINs. We find that D6PK is a membrane-bound protein that is associated with either the basal domain of the plasma membrane or endomembranes. Inhibition of the trafficking regulator GNOM leads to a rapid internalization of D6PK to endomembranes. Interestingly, the dissociation of D6PK from the plasma membrane is also promoted by auxin. Surprisingly, we find that auxin transport-dependent tropic responses are critically and reversibly controlled by D6PK and D6PK-dependent PIN phosphorylation at the plasma membrane. We conclude that D6PK abundance at the plasma membrane and likely D6PK-dependent PIN phosphorylation are prerequisites for PIN-mediated auxin transport. 

Auxin efflux by PIN-FORMED proteins is activated by two different protein kinases, D6 PROTEIN KINASE and PINOID

M Zourelidou, B Absmanner, B Weller, ICR Barbosa, BC Willige, ...

Elife 3, e02860

The development and morphology of vascular plants is critically determined by synthesis and proper distribution of the phytohormone auxin. The directed cell-to-cell distribution of auxin is achieved through a system of auxin influx and efflux transporters. PIN-FORMED (PIN) proteins are proposed auxin efflux transporters, and auxin fluxes can seemingly be predicted based on the—in many cells—asymmetric plasma membrane distribution of PINs. Here, we show in a heterologous Xenopus oocyte system as well as in Arabidopsis thaliana inflorescence stems that PIN-mediated auxin transport is directly activated by D6 PROTEIN KINASE (D6PK) and PINOID (PID)/WAG kinases of the Arabidopsis AGCVIII kinase family. At the same time, we reveal that D6PKs and PID have differential phosphosite preferences. Our study suggests that PIN activation by protein kinases is a crucial component of auxin transport control that must be taken into account to understand auxin distribution within the plant. 

D6PK AGCVIII kinases are required for auxin transport and phototropic hypocotyl bending in Arabidopsis

BC Willige, S Ahlers, M Zourelidou, ICR Barbosa, E Demarsy, M Trevisan, ...

The Plant Cell 25 (5), 1674-1688

Phototropic hypocotyl bending in response to blue light excitation is an important adaptive process that helps plants to optimize their exposure to light. In Arabidopsis thaliana, phototropic hypocotyl bending is initiated by the blue light receptors and protein kinases phototropin1 (phot1) and phot2. Phototropic responses also require auxin transport and were shown to be partially compromised in mutants of the PIN-FORMED (PIN) auxin efflux facilitators. We previously described the D6 PROTEIN KINASE (D6PK) subfamily of AGCVIII kinases, which we proposed to directly regulate PIN-mediated auxin transport. Here, we show that phototropic hypocotyl bending is strongly dependent on the activity of D6PKs and the PIN proteins PIN3, PIN4, and PIN7. While early blue light and phot-dependent signaling events are not affected by the loss of D6PKs, we detect a gradual loss of PIN3 phosphorylation in d6pk mutants of increasing complexity that is most severe in the d6pk d6pkl1 d6pkl2 d6pkl3 quadruple mutant. This is accompanied by a reduction of basipetal auxin transport in the hypocotyls of d6pk as well as in pin mutants. Based on our data, we propose that D6PK-dependent PIN regulation promotes auxin transport and that auxin transport in the hypocotyl is a prerequisite for phot1-dependent hypocotyl bending. 

WAG2 represses apical hook opening downstream from gibberellin and PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 5

BC Willige, E Ogiso-Tanaka, M Zourelidou, C Schwechheimer

Development 139 (21), 4020-4028

When penetrating the soil during germination, dicotyledonous plants protect their shoot apical meristem through the formation of an apical hook. Apical hook formation is a dynamic process that can be subdivided into hook formation, maintenance and opening. It has previously been established that these processes require the transport and signaling of the phytohormone auxin, as well as the biosynthesis and signaling of the phytohormones ethylene and gibberellin (GA). Here, we identify a molecular mechanism for an auxin-GA crosstalk by demonstrating that the auxin transport-regulatory protein kinase WAG2 is a crucial transcription target during apical hook opening downstream from GA signaling. We further show that WAG2 is directly activated by PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 5 (PIF5), a light-labile interactor of the DELLA repressors of the GA pathway. We find that wag2 mutants are impaired in the repression of apical hook opening in dark-grown seedlings and that this phenotype correlates with GA-regulated WAG2 expression in the concave (inner) side of the apical hook. Furthermore, wag2 mutants are also impaired in the maintenance or formation of a local auxin maximum at the site of WAG2 expression in the hook. WAG2 is a regulator of PIN auxin efflux facilitators and, in line with previous data, we show that this kinase can phosphorylate the central intracellular loop of all PIN-FORMED (PIN) proteins regulating apical hook opening. We therefore propose that apical hook opening is controlled by the differential GA-regulated accumulation of WAG2 and subsequent local changes in PIN-mediated auxin transport. 

Gibberellin regulates PIN-FORMED abundance and is required for auxin transport–dependent growth and development in Arabidopsis thaliana

BC Willige, E Isono, R Richter, M Zourelidou, C Schwechheimer

The Plant Cell 23 (6), 2184-2195

Plants integrate different regulatory signals to control their growth and development. Although a number of physiological observations suggest that there is crosstalk between the phytohormone gibberellin (GA) and auxin, as well as with auxin transport, the molecular basis for this hormonal crosstalk remains largely unexplained. Here, we show that auxin transport is reduced in the inflorescences of Arabidopsis thaliana mutants deficient in GA biosynthesis and signaling. We further show that this reduced auxin transport correlates with a reduction in the abundance of PIN-FORMED (PIN) auxin efflux facilitators in GA-deficient plants and that PIN protein levels recover to wild-type levels following GA treatment. We also demonstrate that the regulation of PIN protein levels cannot be explained by a transcriptional regulation of the PIN genes but that GA deficiency promotes, at least in the case of PIN2, the targeting of PIN proteins for vacuolar degradation. In genetic studies, we reveal that the reduced auxin transport of GA mutants correlates with an impairment in two PIN-dependent growth processes, namely, cotyledon differentiation and root gravitropic responses. Our study thus presents evidence for a role of GA in these growth responses and for a GA-dependent modulation of PIN turnover that may be causative for these differential growth responses. 

The polarly localized D6 PROTEIN KINASE is required for efficient auxin transport in Arabidopsis thaliana

M Zourelidou, I Müller, BC Willige, C Nill, Y Jikumaru, H Li, ...

Development 136 (4), 627-636

The phytohormone auxin is a major determinant of plant growth and differentiation. Directional auxin transport and auxin responses are required for proper embryogenesis, organ formation, vascular development, and tropisms. Members of several protein families, including the PIN auxin efflux facilitators, have been implicated in auxin transport; however, the regulation of auxin transport by signaling proteins remains largely unexplored. We have studied a family of four highly homologous AGC protein kinases, which we designated the D6 protein kinases (D6PKs). We found that d6pk mutants have defects in lateral root initiation, root gravitropism, and shoot differentiation in axillary shoots, and that these phenotypes correlate with a reduction in auxin transport. Interestingly, D6PK localizes to the basal(lower) membrane of Arabidopsis root cells, where it colocalizes with PIN1, PIN2 and PIN4. D6PK and PIN1 interact genetically, and D6PK phosphorylates PIN proteins in vitro and in vivo. Taken together, our data show that D6PK is required for efficient auxin transport and suggest that PIN proteins are D6PK phosphorylation targets. 

The desiccation tolerant resurrection plant Craterostigma plantagineum encodes three classes of transketolase transcripts, which are distinguished by their gene structures and their expression patterns. One class, represented by tkt3, is constitutively expressed and two classes, represented by tkt7 and tkt10, are upregulated upon rehydration of desiccated C. plantagineum plants. The objective of this work was to characterize the differentially expressed transketolase isoforms with respect to subcellular localization and enzymatic activity. Using GFP fusion constructs and enzymatic activity assays, we demonstrate that C. plantagineum has novel forms of transketolase which localize not to the chloroplast, but mainly to the cytoplasm and which are distinct in the enzymatic properties from the transketolase enzymes active in the Calvin cycle or oxidative pentose phosphate pathway. A transketolase preparation from rehydrated leaves was able to synthesize the unusual C8 carbon sugar octulose when glucose-6-phosphate and hydroxy-pyruvate were used as acceptor and donor molecules in in vitro assays. This suggests that a transketolase catalyzed reaction is likely to be involved in the octulose biosynthesis in C. plantagineum. 

Shedding light on gibberellic acid signalling

C Schwechheimer, BC Willige

Current opinion in plant biology 12 (1), 57-62

Gibberellic acid (GA) promotes a range of developmental and growth processes in plants, the most well-known being germination, elongation growth and flowering time. DELLA repressors are the key players of the pathway. Their presence or their GA-dependent turnover via the 26S proteasome correlates to a large extent with the repression or derepression, respectively, of GA-dependent growth responses. Recent progress has revealed the role of DELLA repressors in several novel response pathways, and at the biochemical level, they have now been shown to function as repressors of the PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR3 (PIF3) and PIF4 transcriptional activators in the context of light-regulated seedling development. Furthermore, the first insights have been gained into the evolution of the GA signalling pathway on the basis of comparative genomics between the moss Physcomitrella patens, the lycophyte Selaginella moellendorffii and seed plants. 

Examining protein stability and its relevance for plant growth and development

C Schwechheimer, BC Willige, M Zourelidou, EMN Dohmann

Plant Signal Transduction: Methods and Protocols, 147-171

Eukaryotes control many aspects of growth and development such as cell cycle progression and gene expression through the selective degradation of regulatory proteins by way of the 26S proteasome. Generally, proteasomal degradation requires the poly-ubiquitylation of degradation targets by El ubiquitin activating enzymes, E2 ubiquitin conjugating enzymes, and E3 ubiquitin ligases. Specificity is brought to the process by E3 ubiquitin ligases, which engage in direct interactions with the degradation substrate to bring it into the proximity of the E2 enzyme. The abundance of genes encoding E3 ligase subunits in plant genomes invites the hypothesis that protein degradation plays an important role in the control of many plant growth processes, and it is therefore not surprising that proteasomal degradation has already been implicated in several important response pathways. However, most of the genes with a predicted role in the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway still remain to be characterized and the identity of their degradation substrates needs to be revealed. In this chapter, we give an overview of the ubiquitin-proteasome system and the pathway proteins that have been examined in Arabidopsis to date. We review the methods required to identify and characterize the proteins that play a role in protein degradation or that are the target for proteasomal degradation. 

The DELLA domain of GA INSENSITIVE mediates the interaction with the GA INSENSITIVE DWARF1A gibberellin receptor of Arabidopsis

BC Willige, S Ghosh, C Nill, M Zourelidou, EMN Dohmann, A Maier, ...

The Plant Cell 19 (4), 1209-1220

Gibberellic acid (GA) promotes seed germination, elongation growth, and flowering time in plants. GA responses are repressed by DELLA proteins, which contain an N-terminal DELLA domain essential for GA-dependent proteasomal degradation of DELLA repressors. Mutations of or within the DELLA domain of DELLA repressors have been described for species including Arabidopsis thaliana, wheat (Triticum aestivum), maize (Zea mays), and barley (Hordeum vulgare), and we show that these mutations confer GA insensitivity when introduced into the Arabidopsis GA INSENSITIVE (GAI) DELLA repressor. We also demonstrate that Arabidopsis mutants lacking the three GA INSENSITIVE DWARF1 (GID1) GA receptor genes are GA insensitive with respect to GA-promoted growth responses, GA-promoted DELLA repressor degradation, and GA-regulated gene expression. Our genetic interaction studies indicate that GAI and its close homolog REPRESSOR OF ga1-3 are the major growth repressors in a GA receptor mutant background. We further demonstrate that the GA insensitivity of the GAI DELLA domain mutants is explained in all cases by the inability of the mutant proteins to interact with the GID1A GA receptor. Since we found that the GAI DELLA domain alone can mediate GA-dependent GID1A interactions, we propose that the DELLA domain functions as a receiver domain for activated GA receptors. 

Characterization of the VIER F-BOX PROTEINE genes from Arabidopsis reveals their importance for plant growth and development

KM Schwager, LIA Calderon-Villalobos, EMN Dohmann, BC Willige, ...

The Plant Cell 19 (4), 1163-1178

E3 ubiquitin ligases (E3s) target proteins for degradation by the 26S proteasome. In SKP1/CDC53/F-box protein–type E3s, substrate specificity is conferred by the interchangeable F-box protein subunit. The vast majority of the 694 F-box proteins encoded by the Arabidopsis thaliana genome remain to be understood. We characterize the VIER F-BOX PROTEINE (VFB; German for FOUR F-BOX PROTEINS) genes from Arabidopsis that belong to subfamily C of the Arabidopsis F-box protein superfamily. This subfamily also includes the F-box proteins TRANSPORT INHIBITOR RESPONSE1 (TIR1)/AUXIN SIGNALING F-BOX (AFB) proteins and EIN3 BINDING F-BOX proteins, which regulate auxin and ethylene responses, respectively. We show that loss of VFB function causes delayed plant growth and reduced lateral root formation. We find that the expression of a number of auxin-responsive genes and the activity of DR5:β-glucuronidase, a reporter for auxin reponse, are reduced in the vfb mutants. This finding correlates with an increase in the abundance of an AUXIN/INDOLE-3-ACETIC ACID repressor. However, we also find that auxin responses are not affected in the vfb mutants and that a representative VFB family member, VFB2, cannot functionally complement the tir1-1 mutant. We therefore exclude the possibility that VFBs are functional orthologs of TIR1/AFB proteins.