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Repeat variants for the SbMATE transporter protect sorghum roots from aluminum toxicity by transcriptional interplay in cis and trans

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 14 Dec 2018

JO Melo, LGC Martins, BA Barros, MR Pimenta, UGP Lana, CEM Duarte, MM Pastina, CT Guimaraes, RE Schaffert, LV Kochian, EPB Fontes and JV Magalhaes
Acidic soils, where aluminum (Al) toxicity is a major agricultural constraint, are globally widespread and are prevalent in developing countries. In sorghum, the root citrate transporter SbMATE confers Al tolerance by protecting root apices from toxic Al3+, but can exhibit reduced expression when introgressed into different lines. We show that allele-specific SbMATE transactivation occurs and is caused by factors located away from SbMATE Using expression-QTL mapping and expression genome-wide association mapping, we establish that SbMATE transcription is controlled in a bipartite fashion, primarily in cis but also in trans Multiallelic promoter transactivation and ChIP analyses demonstrated that intermolecular effects on SbMATE expression arise from a WRKY and a zinc finger-DHHC transcription factor (TF) that bind to and trans-activate the SbMATE promoter. A haplotype analysis in sorghum RILs indicates that the TFs influence SbMATE expression and Al tolerance. Variation in SbMATE expression likely results from changes in tandemly repeated cis sequences flanking a transposable element (a miniature inverted repeat transposable element) insertion in the SbMATE promoter, which are recognized by the Al3+-responsive TFs. According to our model, repeat expansion in Al-tolerant genotypes increases TF recruitment and, hence, SbMATE expression, which is, in turn, lower in Al-sensitive genetic backgrounds as a result of lower TF expression and fewer binding sites. We thus show that even dominant cis regulation of an agronomically important gene can be subjected to precise intermolecular fine-tuning. These concerted cis/trans interactions, which allow the plant to sense and respond to environmental cues, such as Al3+ toxicity, can now be used to increase yields and food security on acidic soils.
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