Microarray analysis and scale-free gene networks identify candidate regulators in drought-stressed roots of loblolly pine (P. taeda L.)

W Walter Lorenz, Rob Alba, Yuan-Sheng Yu, John M Bordeaux, Marta Simões, Jeffrey F D Dean
BMC Genomics 2011, 12: 264

BACKGROUND: Global transcriptional analysis of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) is challenging due to limited molecular tools. PtGen2, a 26,496 feature cDNA microarray, was fabricated and used to assess drought-induced gene expression in loblolly pine propagule roots. Statistical analysis of differential expression and weighted gene correlation network analysis were used to identify drought-responsive genes and further characterize the molecular basis of drought tolerance in loblolly pine.

RESULTS: Microarrays were used to interrogate root cDNA populations obtained from 12 genotype × treatment combinations (four genotypes, three watering regimes). Comparison of drought-stressed roots with roots from the control treatment identified 2445 genes displaying at least a 1.5-fold expression difference (false discovery rate = 0.01). Genes commonly associated with drought response in pine and other plant species, as well as a number of abiotic and biotic stress-related genes, were up-regulated in drought-stressed roots. Only 76 genes were identified as differentially expressed in drought-recovered roots, indicating that the transcript population can return to the pre-drought state within 48 hours. Gene correlation analysis predicts a scale-free network topology and identifies eleven co-expression modules that ranged in size from 34 to 938 members. Network topological parameters identified a number of central nodes (hubs) including those with significant homology (E-values ≤ 2 × 10-30) to 9-cis-epoxycarotenoid dioxygenase, zeatin O-glucosyltransferase, and ABA-responsive protein. Identified hubs also include genes that have been associated previously with osmotic stress, phytohormones, enzymes that detoxify reactive oxygen species, and several genes of unknown function.

CONCLUSION: PtGen2 was used to evaluate transcriptome responses in loblolly pine and was leveraged to identify 2445 differentially expressed genes responding to severe drought stress in roots. Many of the genes identified are known to be up-regulated in response to osmotic stress in pine and other plant species and encode proteins involved in both signal transduction and stress tolerance. Gene expression levels returned to control values within a 48-hour recovery period in all but 76 transcripts. Correlation network analysis indicates a scale-free network topology for the pine root transcriptome and identifies central nodes that may serve as drivers of drought-responsive transcriptome dynamics in the roots of loblolly pine.

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