1 FEBS Letters 423 (1998) 324^328 FEBS The wheat wcs120 promoter is cold-inducible in both monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous species Franc ois Ouellet, Alejandro Vazquez-Tello, Fathey Sarhan* Deèpartement des Sciences biologiques, Universiteè du Queèbec aé Montreèal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-ville, Montreal, Que. H3C 3P8, Canada Received 5 December 1997; revised version received 26 January 1998 Abstract The wcs120 gene is specifically induced by low temperature (LT) and encodes a protein that is thought to play an important role in the cold acclimation process in wheat. To identify the regulatory elements involved in its LT responsiveness, the transient expression activity of different promoter regions was determined using the luciferase reporter gene. The data indicate the involvement of putative enhancer elements, negative and positive regulatory regions in the transcriptional regulation of this gene. The promoter was found to be coldinducible in different freezing-tolerant and -sensitive monocot and dicot species, suggesting that universal transcription factors responsive to LT may be present in all plants. This promoter could be used to drive the genes needed for LT tolerance in sensitive species. z 1998 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Key words: Cold inducibility; Dicotyledon; Freezing tolerance; Monocotyledon; Promoter 1. Introduction *Corresponding author. Fax: (1) (514) Abbreviations: FT, freezing tolerance; FI, fold induction; LT, low temperature; LT 50, temperature required to kill 50% of the plants; WCS, wheat cold-specific The cold acclimation process in plants is genetically programmed and is associated with an increased freezing tolerance (FT) resulting from the expression of many genes . Among these, wcs120 is a speci cally LT-regulated gene encoding a highly abundant protein which appears to play an important role during cold acclimation of wheat . The accumulation of both the mrna and protein was shown to correlate closely with the capacity of wheat cultivars to develop FT. The wcs120 gene copy number and organization are identical in freezing-tolerant and less tolerant wheat cultivars, and the expression is regulated mainly at the transcriptional level. On the other hand, the homologs of wcs120 (and other cold-regulated genes) in chilling-sensitive Gramineae species such as rice and corn are not expressed. This lack of expression may result from ine cient cis-acting elements or from the absence of cold-speci c transcription factors and could explain the inability of the sensitive plants to cold acclimatize. Few cis-acting elements responsive to LT (LTRE) have been identi ed so far, the best known being the A / G CCGAC core motif in the promoters of cor15a/rd29a from Arabidopsis, and bn115 from Brassica napus [3^5]. In our e orts to identify the nuclear events regulating the cold-speci c expression of the wcs120 gene, we have characterized its promoter region. DNA-protein interaction studies revealed the presence of multiple DNA binding proteins in nuclear extracts from non-acclimatized plants which interact with several elements in the promoter . The binding of these factors, which may act as transcriptional repressors, is decreased when they are phosphorylated upon LT exposure. In this report, we present the deletion analysis of the wcs120 promoter region using transient expression in wheat leaves. In addition, the promoter strength was determined in di erent monocot and dicot species. 2. Materials and methods 2.1. Plant material and growth conditions Seeds of winter (Triticum aestivum L. cv Fredrick) and spring wheat (T. aestivum L. cv Glenlea), barley (Hordeum vulgare L. cv Sophie) and winter rye (Secale cereale L. cv Puma) were germinated in moist vermiculite for 7 days. Control plants were maintained under controlled environment at a 24³C/20³C (day/night) regime with a 15 h photoperiod and a 75% relative humidity. For rice (Oryza sativa L. cv Nipponbare), seeds were germinated in a water-saturated mixture of soil, peat and vermiculite at 28³C with a 12 h photoperiod. Rapeseed (Brassica napus L. cv Jet Neuf), alfalfa (Medicago sativa ssp. falcata L. cv Anik), sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum L. cv Supersett), cucumber (Cucumis sativus cv Vertige) and tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Miller cv Floramerica) were grown at 24³C in the same soil, peat and vermiculite mixture. For the cold treatment, plants were grown for 1 week with a 12 h photoperiod at 4³C for wheat, barley, rye, alfalfa and rapeseed, or at 10³C for rice, cucumber, pepper and tomato. Freezing tolerance of these species, expressed as the LT 50, varies as follows: rye (325³C), Fredrick wheat (316³C), Brassica (316³C), alfalfa (315³C), Glenlea wheat (36³C), barley (34³C), rice (4³C), pepper, tomato and cucumber (5^10³C) Transient expression experiments The 942 bp upstream of the ATG translation initiation codon of wcs120 was cloned and sequenced, and the transcription initiation start site was determined . A deletion series was generated by exonuclease III and exonuclease VII digestion and the subclones were sequenced (T7 sequencing kit, Pharmacia). Constructions bearing transcriptional fusions of the promoter fragments with the luciferase reporter gene and the nos terminator were prepared in pbluescript. For the 3P deletions, the TATA box and transcription start site were provided by the 90 bp proximal fragment of the CaMV 35S promoter. Our results showed that, even though this promoter is much more e cient in dicots, it is active in wheat and its capacity to promote transcription is temperature-independent (Fig. 2B, MIN). All the plasmids used were puri ed from Escherichia coli cultures by alkaline lysis and CsCl centrifugation. For transformation, plasmid mixtures were prepared by mixing equal amounts of each wcs120 promoter-luciferase construct with a ubiquitin promoter-glucuronidase construct (pahc27 ). Plasmid DNA was coated on 0.9 Wm tungsten beads (M-10, Bio-Rad) by ethanol precipitation  and delivered to the leaf tissues using a microprojectile bombardment apparatus . The tissues were placed on an agar plate and bombarded with a 50 ms 85 PSI helium discharge under a vacuum of 25 inches of Hg. They were then oated on a nutrient solution (0.5 g/l 20:20:20, N:P:K; CIL) in a Petri dish and incubated for 2 days at 24³C or 3 days at 4³ or 10³C, as speci ed for each experiment. Soluble proteins were extracted by grinding each /98/$19.00 ß 1998 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. All rights reserved. PII S (98)
2 F. Ouellet et al./febs Letters 423 (1998) 324^ sample (V50^60 mg) with a mortar and pestle in 400 Wl of ice-cold extraction bu er (50 mm Na-phosphate ph 7.0, 10 mm DTT, 0.1% Triton X-100, 10 mm EDTA) and centrifugation at Ug for 10 min. The supernatant was used directly for enzymatic determination of luciferase (LUC; assay kit from Promega) and L-glucuronidase (GUS ) activities. In all cases the results are expressed as LUC to GUS ratios, and are means þ S.D. of at least four independent extracts. Prior to LUC/GUS calculation for the 4³C samples, we found that a correction of the GUS values was absolutely necessary since the GUS activity obtained at 4³C was constantly 2^4-fold lower than the activity at 24³C. A correction factor was thus calculated for each construct by dividing the average GUS activity at 24³C by the average activity at 4³C. The individual GUS values at 4³C were then multiplied by this factor to obtain the corrected values used in the LUC/GUS calculation. If this correction had not been made, the activity of the promoter at LT would have been overestimated. 3. Results and discussion 3.1. Deletion analysis Western analyses were performed to evaluate the capacity of the transformed tissues to express the endogenous wcs120 gene family upon LT exposure. The results show that the sections of untransformed leaves (Fig. 1A) and those of leaves transformed with the beads only (Fig. 1B) accumulate the WCS120 proteins in a similar manner. The conditions tested were those used for the post-bombardment incubation period in the transient expression assays. These results show that the wounding stress caused by the bombardment had no e ect on the level of expression of the endogenous wcs120 genes, and should not a ect the activity of the promoter in the transient assays. Wheat leaf sections were transformed with constructs bearing the di erent deletions of the promoter transcriptionally fused to the luciferase (luc) reporter gene. The chimeric constructs are represented schematically in Fig. 2A. The results show that LT treatment increases LUC activity 8-fold when the full length wcs120 promoter is used (Fig. 2B, FL860). A control experiment was performed using the pahc18 (Ubiluc) vector under the same conditions. The results showed no increase in LUC activity at 4³C when the gene is driven by the Ubi promoter. This con rms that when the wcs120 promoter is used, the increase in activity observed at 4³C is due to the LT inducibility and not to an increased luc transcript stability at this temperature. The 5P deletion up to 3590 leads to an increase of the fold induction (FI) from 8- to 55-fold. This is mainly due to the almost complete loss of basal activity at 24³C. The region between 3860 and 3590 contains a 52 bp direct repeat composed of two elements separated from each other by 4 bp, and four of the ve CGTCGG elements which do not show any homology with known motifs. The loss of activity at both 4³ and 24³C upon deletion of this region suggests that either or both elements could act as transcriptional enhancers. It was reported that repeated sequences of 127^337 bp from Arabidopsis could act as enhancers in tobacco transgenic plants . A further deletion to 3415 increases the activity at both temperatures, suggesting that the region from 3590 to 3415 contains elements that repress transcription. This region contains the two GGGTATA elements of unknown function. The fact that the e ect of the putative negative elements was not apparent in the FL860 construct suggests that the putative enhancers located between 3860 and 3590 may overcome or inactivate the negative factors of the 3590 to 3415 region. If Fig. 1. E ect of bombardment on the expression of the endogenous WCS120 proteins. The proteins were extracted and analyzed by Western blotting using the polyclonal antibody directed against the members of the WCS120 family. Numbers on the right indicate the MW (in kda) of the major members of the family. Three independent samples were analyzed for each condition. A: Protein accumulation in non-transformed wheat leaves sections after 48 h at 24³C and 72 h at 4³C. B: Protein accumulation after bombardment of wheat leaves with tungsten beads without DNA and incubation at 24³C for 48 h or at 4³C for 72 h. the region between 3415 and 3215 is deleted, a decrease in activity is observed at both temperatures, suggesting the presence of enhancer elements. However, the signi cant decrease in activity at 4³C suggests that this region could contain coldinducible positive regulatory elements. In fact, this region contains a CCGAC LTRE previously identi ed in the promoters of cor15a/rd29a from Arabidopsis and bn115 from Brassica napus [3^5]. The presence of a motif identical to this LTRE in the wcs120 promoter may suggest a similar role in wheat. A cdna clone corresponding to a protein from Arabidopsis which can bind the CCGAC motif has been isolated recently . A more detailed characterization of this transcription factor will help to determine the implication of this motif in the LT response. The deletion of the region between 3215 and 372 abolishes almost all promoter activity. The decrease of activity at 4³C suggests that the deleted region contains an LTRE. This region contains the other GCCGAC LTRE and two of the three CACCTGC elements. The latter elements contain the CANNTG motif, which forms the core of several cis-acting elements such as the ABA response elements (ABRE) . This motif was identi ed as the preferred binding site for the bhlh proteins, the common plant regulatory factors (CPRFs) and for the G-box binding factors (GBFs) belonging to the bzip class of proteins . Another element, CACT- CAC, is repeated two times and was identi ed as a binding site for the transcriptional activators GCN4 from yeast and zeste from Drosophila [14,15]. Taken together, these observations suggest that the wcs120 promoter possesses putative cisacting elements that could bind known transcription factors, present in both the plant and animal kingdoms. The promoter region of the wcs120 gene was also analyzed by 3P deletions. The deletion of the proximal 67 bp of the wcs120 promoter leads to a decrease of the FI from 8.0- to 4.0-fold, suggesting the presence of an LTRE in the region between 367 and +1. A further deletion to 3178 decreases
3 326 F. Ouellet et al./febs Letters 423 (1998) 324^328 Fig. 2. Deletion analysis of the wcs120 promoter by transient expression. A: Schematic representation of the promoter fragments and relative positions of the repeated DNA motifs deduced from the sequence analysis (GenBank accession number AF031235). The constructions were named according to the rst (5P deletions) or last (3P deletion) nucleotide of the promoter fragment. B: E ect of cold treatment on the activity of the wcs120 promoter fragments. The leaf sections were transformed with the di erent promoter-luc fragments and Ubi-Gus (pahc27), and incubated at 4³C for 3 days or at 24³C for 2 days. Soluble proteins were extracted and enzymatic activities of LUC and GUS were determined. Numbers at the right of the error bars indicate the induction factors (4³C/24³C relative activity ratio). the FI from 4.0- to 1.8-fold, suggesting the presence of an LTRE. This supports the observation made from the analysis of the 3215 to 372 deletion. Upon removal of the initial 268 bp of the promoter, the activity at 4³C increased whereas that at 24³C decreased compared to 3178 construct. The relative increase of the FI suggests the existence of negative regulatory elements between 3268 and 3178 that would be mainly active at 4³C. Deletion to 3374 completely abolishes the wcs120 promoter activity. Since the most important loss of absolute activity is that at 4³C, an LTRE may be present between 3374 and On the other hand, we cannot rule out the possibility of the existence of an enhancer element in this region. Further deletion to 3501 does not reactivate the promoter, indicating that most of the elements responsible for the promoter activity were removed. Together, the results from the transient expression assays suggest that the transcription of the wcs120 gene is dependent on the presence of multiple regulatory elements. Footprinting experiments are required to identify more precisely the DNA motifs that bind the di erent proteins. It will then be possible to perform the mutation analyses needed to con rm the importance of these motifs in the LT responsiveness Activity of the wcs120 promoter in di erent species The transient activity of the full length promoter (FL860) was determined in di erent freezing-sensitive and -tolerant species. The results show that the promoter activity is similar in the more tolerant Fredrick and less tolerant Glenlea cultivars (Fig. 3). This suggests that even though Glenlea is less tolerant, the plant possesses the trans regulatory elements needed to express this important gene for FT. This result was expected since Northern analysis had shown no signi cant di erences between the levels of expression of the wcs120 gene in Glenlea and Fredrick, during the rst week of acclimation . The kinetic analyses of WCS120 protein accumulation and the close inverse relationship between WCS120 protein levels and LT 50 indicate that the FT of cereals is determined by the degree and duration of LT gene expression. These results and other evidence, such as increased transcript stability and alternative splicing, support a role for post-transcriptional regulation events in the di erential accumulation of proteins at LT [1,16]. The promoter shows a similar LT inducibility in wheat and barley (Fig. 3). Barley, a species closely related to wheat, possesses a gene (dhn5 ) that is almost identical to Table 1 Activity of the wcs120 full length promoter in di erent dicotyledonous species after cold exposure Species Family Tolerance to freezing LUC/GUS ratio FI a 24³C cold Alfalfa Leguminosae Tolerant 0 b 1031 þ 109 (ND) b Brassica Cruciferae Tolerant 0 b 39 þ 2 (ND) b Cucumber Cucurbitaceae Sensitive 197 þ þ Tomato Solanaceae Sensitive 73 þ þ 29 1 c Pepper Solanaceae Sensitive þ þ The leaf sections were transformed with the FL860LUC construct and Ubi-Gus (pahc27), and incubated at LT for 3 days or at 24³C for 2 days. The LT treatment was performed at 4³C or at 10³C for the cold-tolerant and -sensitive species, respectively. Soluble proteins were extracted and enzymatic activities of LUC and GUS were determined. a The fold induction (FI) is the cold/24³c relative activity ratio. b The FI was di cult to determine due to the undetectable activity of LUC at 24³C. c The di erence between the two conditions is not signi cant.
4 F. Ouellet et al./febs Letters 423 (1998) 324^ Fig. 3. Activity of the wcs120 full length promoter in di erent monocotyledonous species after cold exposure. The leaf sections were transformed with the FL860LUC construct and Ubi-Gus (pahc27), and incubated at LT for 3 days or at 24³C for 2 days. The LT treatment was performed at 4³C except for rice, a sensitive species, which was exposed at 10³C. Soluble proteins were extracted and enzymatic activities of LUC and GUS were determined. Numbers above the error bars indicate the fold induction (FI; 4³C/24³C relative activity ratio). In the case of rye and rice, the FI was di cult to estimate due to the undetectable activity of LUC at 24³C. The LUC/GUS ratio was almost zero. wcs120. Winter rye, a highly tolerant Graminea that also possesses homologs of the wcs120 family members, showed a 20- fold increase in activity following exposure to 4³C. Rice, a cold-sensitive monocot species that possesses an inactive gene homologous to wcs120, showed an 11-fold increase at 10³C compared to 24³C. A much higher LT inducibility was observed in the freezing-tolerant dicot species alfalfa and Brassica at 4³C (Table 1). The fold increase was very di cult to estimate due to the undetectable activity of wcs120-luc at 24³C. The wcs120 promoter activity was also evaluated in cold-sensitive dicots (Table 1). In cucumber, a 26-fold induction of the activity at 10³C was observed. On the other hand, in tomato, no di erence in activity was observed between the samples treated at the two temperatures. Pepper is the only species for which a decrease (10-fold) of the promoter activity was observed upon LT exposure. These results indicate that the level of promoter activity is not correlated with the capacity of these species to develop FT. For example, the promoter is less active in rye (the most tolerant species tested) than in wheat, a result that is supported by previous genetic analyses. Amphiploids from rye/wheat crosses show a FT equivalent, but not superior, to that of wheat . Furthermore, the level of expression of the wcs120 family genes in these individuals does not exceed that observed in wheat. This suggests that the elements important for FT in rye are silenced in a predominant wheat background, and would suggest the existence of di erences in the cis- and/or trans-acting elements involved in the transcription of wcs120 and perhaps of other LT-induced genes. Our data indicate that the wcs120 promoter is LT-inducible in the Gramineae (wheat, barley, rice and rye), Cruciferae (Brassica), Leguminosae (alfalfa) and Cucurbitaceae (cucumber), but not in the Solanaceae family (tomato, pepper). The reason for the absence of LT induction in the latter family is not known. The results provide evidence of the existence of common transcription factors in both monocots and dicots, and suggest that these factors have the capacity to recognize the cis-acting elements of a cold-inducible heterologous promoter. The data presented here indicate that the cold sensitivity of some species (such as rice and cucumber) is apparently not due to ine cient or absent transcription factors but may possibly result from the ine ciency of the promoters of the homologous genes. This hypothesis could be veri ed with the characterization of the promoter of the wcs120 homologs in sensitive species. The observations from the transient assays do not, of course, necessarily represent what would happen in transgenic plants. Nevertheless, the identi cation of such a promoter is interesting from an application point of view since it could be a useful tool in the elaboration of strategies aimed at the improvement of FT in sensitive monocot and dicot species. Until now, plants modi ed to overexpress genes potentially implicated in FT have been transformed with constructions bearing the genes under the control of constitutive promoters. The most widely used promoters are those of the maize ubiquitin gene (Ubi) and of the CaMV 35S gene, for monocots and dicots respectively. E orts are now being focused towards the identi cation of promoters that are more e cient in di erent plants. For example, several constructions bearing, in di erent combinations, fragments of the CaMV 35S promoter, an intron of the bean phaseolin gene, the 6 sequence of TMV and terminating sequences from the CaMV 35S or nos genes have been tested in rice (monocot) and tobacco (dicot) . It was shown that the most e cient constructions for rice were not the same as for tobacco, suggesting di erences in the speci city of gene expression between monocot and dicot plants. On the other hand, the overexpression of a gene resulting from the use of a constitutive promoter is not necessarily an objective to achieve in all cases. Indeed, few studies have focused on the physiological consequences related to the constitutive expression of genes that are normally inducible and thus expressed only when needed. The use of a cold-inducible promoter such as that of the wcs120 gene would allow the expression of the genes only when the plant is under cold stress conditions. Acknowledgements: We are grateful to Sylvain Dallaire for the construction of the microprojectile apparatus. This work was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada research grant (A7199) to F. Sarhan. F. Ouellet was supported by a Ph.D. scholarship from the Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l'aide aé la recherche, Gouvernement du Queèbec. References  Hughes, M.A. and Dunn, M.A. (1996) J. Exp. Bot. 47, 291^305.  Sarhan, F., Ouellet, F. and Vazquez-Tello, A. 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