Arsenic and mercury tolerance and cadmium sensitivity in Arabidopsis plants expressing bacterial gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase

Yujing Li, Om Parkash Dhankher, Laura Carreira, Rebecca S Balish, Richard B Meagher
Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 2005, 24 (6): 1376-86
Cysteine sulfhydryl-rich peptide thiols are believed to play important roles in the detoxification of many heavy metals and metalloids such as arsenic, mercury, and cadmium in plants. The gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase (gamma-ECS) catalyzes the synthesis of the dipeptidethiol gamma-glu-cys (gamma-EC), the first step in the biosynthesis of phytochelatins (PCs). Arabidopsis thaliana, engineered to express the bacterial gamma-ECS gene under control of a strong constitutive actin regulatory sequence (A2), expressed gamma-ECS at levels approaching 0.1% of total protein. In response to arsenic, mercury, and cadmium stresses, the levels of gamma-EC and its derivatives, glutathione (GSH) and PCs, were increased in the A2::ECS transgenic plants to three- to 20-fold higher concentrations than the increases that occurred in wild-type (WT). Compared to cadmium and mercury treatments, arsenic treatment most significantly increased levels of gamma-EC and PCs in both the A2::ECS transgenic and WT plants. The A2::ECS transgenic plants were highly resistant to arsenic and weakly resistant to mercury. Although exposure to cadmium produced three- to fivefold increases in levels of gamma-EC-related peptides in the A2::ECS lines, these plants were significantly more sensitive to Cd(II) than WT and trace levels of Cd(II) blocked resistance to arsenic and mercury. A few possible mechanisms for gamma-ECS-enhanced arsenic and mercury resistance and cadmium hypersensitivity are discussed.

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