Transcriptional modulation of ethylene response factor protein JERF3 in the oxidative stress response enhances tolerance of tobacco seedlings to salt, drought, and freezing

Lijun Wu, Zhijin Zhang, Haiwen Zhang, Xue-Chen Wang, Rongfeng Huang
Plant Physiology 2008, 148 (4): 1953-63
Abiotic stresses such as drought, cold, and salinity affect normal growth and development in plants. The production and accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause oxidative stress under these abiotic conditions. Recent research has elucidated the significant role of ethylene response factor (ERF) proteins in plant adaptation to abiotic stresses. Our earlier functional analysis of an ERF protein, JERF3, indicated that JERF3-expressing tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) adapts better to salinity in vitro. This article extends that study by showing that transcriptional regulation of JERF3 in the oxidative stress response modulates the increased tolerance to abiotic stresses. First, we confirm that JERF3-expressing tobacco enhances adaptation to drought, freezing, and osmotic stress during germination and seedling development. Then we demonstrate that JERF3-expressing tobacco imparts not only higher expression of osmotic stress genes compared to wild-type tobacco, but also the activation of photosynthetic carbon assimilation/metabolism and oxidative genes. More importantly, this regulation of the expression of oxidative genes subsequently enhances the activities of superoxide dismutase but reduces the content of ROS in tobacco under drought, cold, salt, and abscisic acid treatments. This indicates that JERF3 also modulates the abiotic stress response via the regulation of the oxidative stress response. Further assays indicate that JERF3 activates the expression of reporter genes driven by the osmotic-responsive GCC box, DRE, and CE1 and by oxidative-responsive as-1 in transient assays, suggesting the transcriptional activation of JERF3 in the expression of genes involved in response to oxidative and osmotic stress. Our results therefore establish that JERF3 activates the expression of such genes through transcription, resulting in decreased accumulation of ROS and, in turn, enhanced adaptation to drought, freezing, and salt in tobacco.

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