Genome-wide identification and expression pattern of drought-responsive members of the NAC family in maize

Kaliyugam Shiriga, Rinku Sharma, Krishan Kumar, Shiv Kumar Yadav, Firoz Hossain, Nepolean Thirunavukkarasu
Meta Gene 2014, 2: 407-17
NAC proteins are plant-specific transcription factors (TFs). Although they play a pivotal role in regulating distinct biological processes, TFs in maize are yet to be investigated comprehensively. Within the maize genome, we identified 152 putative NAC domain-encoding genes (ZmNACs), including eight membrane-bound members, by systematic sequence analysis and physically mapped them onto ten chromosomes of maize. In silico analysis of the ZmNACs and comparison with similar genes in other plants such as Arabidopsis, rice, and soybean, revealed a similar NAC sequence architecture. Phylogenetically, the ZmNACs were arranged into six distinct subgroups (I-VI) possessing conserved motifs. Phylogenetic analysis using stress-related NAC TFs from Arabidopsis, rice, and soybean as seeding sequences identified 24 of the 152 ZmNACs (all from Group II) as putative stress-responsive genes, including one dehydration-responsive ZmSNAC1 gene reported earlier. One drought-tolerant genotype (HKI577) and one susceptible genotype (PC13T-3) were used for studying the expression pattern of the NAC genes during drought stress. qRT-PCR based expression profiles of 11 genes predicted to be related to stress confirmed strong differential gene expression during drought stress. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that ZmNAC18, ZmNAC51, ZmNAC145, and ZmNAC72, which were up-regulated in the tolerant genotype and down-regulated in the susceptible genotype, belonged to the same group to which also belong other drought-responsive genes, namely SNAC1, OsNAC6, ANAC019, and ANAC055, which act as a transcriptional activator and are strongly induced under stress from various abiotic sources. Differentially expressed ZmNAC genes, alone or in combination with each other or with other type(s) of TFs, may control the general cellular machinery and regulate stress-responsive downstream genes. Alternatively, they may serve as a platform to regulate a broad set of genes, which are subsequently fine-tuned by specific regulators. This genome-wide identification and expression profiling opens new avenues for systematic functional analysis of new members of the NAC gene family, which may be exploited in developing lines that are better adapted to drought.

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