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Plant Cell. Jan 2006; 18(1): 70–84.
PMCID: PMC1323485

Arabidopsis CONSTANS-LIKE3 Is a Positive Regulator of Red Light Signaling and Root GrowthW in Box


CONSTITUTIVE PHOTOMORPHOGENIC1 (COP1) is an E3 ubiquitin ligase that represses photomorphogenesis in the dark. Therefore, proteins interacting with COP1 could be important regulators of light-dependent development. Here, we identify CONSTANS-LIKE3 (COL3) as a novel interaction partner of COP1. A green fluorescent protein–COL3 fusion protein colocalizes with COP1 to nuclear speckles when transiently expressed in plant cells. This localization requires the B-box domains in COL3, indicating a novel function of this domain. A loss-of-function col3 mutant has longer hypocotyls in red light and in short days. Unlike constans, the col3 mutant flowers early and shows a reduced number of lateral branches in short days. The mutant also exhibits reduced formation of lateral roots. The col3 mutation partially suppresses the cop1 and deetiolated1 (det1) mutations in the dark, suggesting that COL3 acts downstream of both of these repressors. However, the col3 mutation exerts opposing effects on cop1 and det1 in terms of lateral roots and anthocyanin accumulation, suggesting that COL3 also has activities that are independent of COP1 and DET1. In conclusion, we have identified COL3 as a positive regulator of photomorphogenesis that acts downstream of COP1 but can promote lateral root development independently of COP1 and also function as a daylength-sensitive regulator of shoot branching.


The perception of light participates in the gating of key developmental transitions throughout the life cycle of the plant, such as germination of the seed, photomorphogenesis or deetiolation of the seedling, and flowering. Deetiolation is arguably the most dramatic of these light-dependent transitions. Exposure of an etiolated seedling to light results in the inhibition of hypocotyl elongation, the promotion of cotyledon expansion, and the synthesis of a number of pigments, including chlorophyll and anthocyanin, and entails a dramatic transcriptional reprogramming (Ma et al., 2001).

Arabidopsis thaliana has three major classes of photoreceptors: red/far-red-light–responding phytochromes, blue light/UV-A light–responding cryptochromes, and phototropins. The cytoplasmic phototropins primarily regulate processes optimizing photosynthesis, whereas the transcriptional and developmental changes are attributed to the phytochromes and the cryptochromes. The phytochromes, encoded by the five genes PHYA to PHYE, are cytoplasmic in the dark but translocate into the nucleus in the light (Kircher et al., 2002). The active far-red-light–absorbing form of phyB was found to interact with a DNA-bound transcription factor, suggesting a rather direct signal transduction in which the photoreceptor could act in the promoter context (Martinez-Garcia et al., 2000). The two cryptochromes cry1 and cry2 are nuclear in darkness; both are phosphorylated in response to light, whereby cry1 becomes enriched in the cytoplasm and the light-labile cry2 is degraded. Cryptochromes interact genetically with multiple phytochromes (Neff et al., 2000). phyB and cry2 have been shown to tightly colocalize in vivo (Mas et al., 2000), suggesting that the different photoreceptors might act together to initiate similar developmental pathways. This is consistent with the large overlap in transcription profiles seen in microarray studies of seedlings grown in different monochromatic lights (Ma et al., 2001). Microarray studies performed in far-red light suggest that light initiates a transcriptional cascade in which a large fraction of the early affected genes are transcription factors (Tepperman et al., 2001).

In the absence of light, the seedlings become etiolated, a developmentally arrested growth mode characterized by limited root growth, an elongated hypocotyl, closed undifferentiated cotyledons, and an apical hook. The developmental arrest seen during etiolated growth is mediated by the COP/DET/FUS proteins, which act as repressors of the default photomorphogenic pathway. Mutations in any of these 10 genes result in deetiolated growth in darkness. Dark-grown cop/det/fus alleles have genome expression profiles closely resembling those of light-grown seedlings (Ma et al., 2003). Recent results have shown that COP/DET/FUS repression involves protein degradation. CONSTITUTIVE PHOTOMORPHOGENIC1 (COP1), an E3 ubiquitin ligase, mediates ubiquitin-dependent degradation of the transcription factors HY5, HYH, LAF1, and HFR1 as well as the phyA photoreceptor (Osterlund et al., 2000a; Holm et al., 2002; Seo et al., 2003, 2004; Duek et al., 2004; Jang et al., 2005; Yang et al., 2005). The COP1-dependent degradation requires the activity of at least three different protein complexes: an ~700-kD complex containing COP1 and SPA1 (Saijo et al., 2003); a 350-kD complex containing COP10, an E2 ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme variant, and DEETIOLATED1 (DET1) (Yanagawa et al., 2004); and the COP9 signalosome, a nuclear protein complex that activates cullin-containing multisubunit ubiquitin ligases (Cope and Deshaies, 2003; Wei and Deng, 2003).

The failure of plants with mutations in the COP/DET/FUS genes to arrest development during etiolated growth suggests that the targets of this pathway are likely to be key regulators of photomorphogenic development. To date, several photoreceptors as well as transcription factors have been shown to interact with COP1. phyB, cry1, and cry2 were found to interact with COP1 (Wang et al., 2001; Yang et al., 2001), and cry2 accumulates in cop1-4 and cop1-6 mutants (Shalitin et al., 2002), suggesting that COP1 might regulate cry2 abundance. Furthermore, COP1 was recently shown to interact with and ubiquitinate phyA (Seo et al., 2004). These interactions suggest that COP1 could mediate the desensitization and/or termination of signaling through the photoreceptors in the light.

By contrast, the photomorphogenic development seen in cop/det/fus mutants in the dark could not be mediated by photoreceptors because they are activated by light. Furthermore, genetic analysis revealed that cop1 is epistatic to mutations disrupting phytochrome and cry1 function in darkness (Ang and Deng, 1994). The photomorphogenic development in dark-grown cop/det/fus seedlings, therefore, is likely caused by the loss of COP/DET/FUS repression of factors acting downstream of the photoreceptors. Four of the previously identified COP1-interacting proteins are transcription factors, and all four are positive regulators of light signaling. HY5 acts as a positive regulator in far-red, red, blue, and UV-B light conditions, HFR1 is a positive regulator in far-red and blue light, whereas LAF1 and HYH promote light-dependent development in far-red and blue light, respectively (Osterlund et al., 2000b; Ballesteros et al., 2001; Holm et al., 2002; Duek and Fankhauser, 2003; Ulm et al., 2004). Despite significant recent progress, only a few downstream regulators of light signaling have been identified, and the functional relationship between them is not well understood.

To date, mutations in only two genes have been found to suppress the phenotypes conferred by both cop1 and det1. One of these is HY5 (Ang and Deng, 1994; Pepper and Chory, 1997), the first identified target of the COP/DET/FUS pathway. The other gene, TED3, encodes a peroxisomal protein, and analysis of the dominant ted3 mutation revealed that enhanced peroxisomal function partially suppresses weak cop1 and det1 alleles (Hu et al., 2002).

Here, we identify COL3 (for CONSTANS-LIKE3) as a COP1-interacting protein. Characterization of a col3 mutant indicates that COL3 positively regulates the light-dependent development and formation of lateral roots. Furthermore, COL3 inhibits shoot elongation and promotes branching of the shoot specifically in short-day conditions. Finally, col3 can suppress the deetiolated phenotype conferred by both cop1 and det1 alleles, and we characterize genetic interactions between col3 and hy5, cop1, and det1.


COL3 Interacts with COP1 in Yeast Two-Hybrid Assays

COP1 was used as bait in a yeast two-hybrid screen in an effort to identify novel light-signaling components (Holm et al., 2001, 2002). In addition to the previously reported HYH, STH, and STO proteins, the screen identified three cDNAs encoded by the COL3 gene, At2g24790 (Arabidopsis Genome Initiative, 2000). COL3 is one of the five CONSTANS (CO)-like proteins most closely related to CO (Robson et al., 2001). COL3, like CO, has two N-terminal tandemly repeated B-box domains, a CCT domain in the C-terminal half of the protein and a conserved motif in the C terminus (Figure 1A). The B-boxes show 59% amino acid identity (41 of 85), and the CCT domain shows 91% amino acid identity (39 of 43), between COL3 and CO, respectively. The Zn2+-ligating B-box has been proposed to be a protein interaction domain, but it does not appear to be required for the interaction with COP1 in yeast because all three cDNAs identified in the screen encode a truncated COL3 protein lacking the 75 N-terminal amino acids (Figure 1A).

Figure 1.
COL3 Interacts with COP1 in Yeast, and a VP Pair in the C Terminus Is Critical for the Interaction.

The COP1 protein used as bait contains three protein-interacting domains: a RING finger, a coiled-coil domain, and a WD40 repeat domain. To further examine the interaction between COP1 and COL3, we used Gal4 DNA binding domain fusions of COP1 proteins identified in three cop1 alleles, cop1-4, cop1-8, and cop1-9. COP1-4 lacks the WD40 domain, whereas COP1-8 and COP1-9 contain a deletion and an amino acid substitution in the WD40 domain, respectively (Figure 1B) (McNellis et al., 1994). We found that COL3 is unable to interact with either of the COP1 proteins containing deletions or mutations in the WD40 domain, suggesting that the WD40 domain in COP1 is required for the interaction with COL3 (Figure 1C). Previous studies have identified Val–Pro (VP) pairs in the HY5, HYH, STH, and STO proteins that are critical for their interaction with COP1 (Holm et al., 2001, 2002). COL3 contains five VP pairs, and we substituted three of these with Ala (VP91AA, VP204AA, and VP291AA) to examine whether they were involved in the interaction with COP1. The COL3 proteins were all expressed at similar levels in yeast (Figure 1D). As shown in Figure 1C, both the VP91AA and VP204AA COL3 proteins interact with COP1, but the VP291AA substitution renders COL3 unable to interact with COP1, suggesting that, as in the B-box–containing proteins STH and STO, a VP pair in the C terminus is required for the interaction with COP1.

The COL3 Protein Colocalizes with COP1 When Transiently Expressed in Plant Cells

The COP1 protein localizes to nuclear speckles in the dark, and the nuclear abundance of COP1 decreases in the light (von Arnim and Deng, 1994). Furthermore, COP1 has been found to colocalize with several interaction partners, such as HY5, LAF1, HYH, HFR, and the CCT domain of CRY1 (CCT1), in nuclear speckles when expressed in onion (Allium cepa) epidermal cells (Ang et al., 1998; Wang et al., 2001; Holm et al., 2002; Seo et al., 2003). Both LAF1 and HFR localize to nuclear speckles when expressed in onion cells, but HY5, HYH, and CCT1 give a diffuse nuclear fluorescence when expressed alone and require coexpression of COP1 for speckle localization. We made two green fluorescent protein (GFP)–COL3 fusion constructs to examine the subcellular localization of COL3: GFP-COL3, containing the entire coding sequence of COL3; and GFP-COL3ΔB, lacking amino acids 1 to 75 encoding the B-box domains (Figure 2A). The GFP-COL3 protein is exclusively nuclear when expressed in onion cells, and it localizes to nuclear speckles both in the dark and in the light (Figure 2B). The speckles were consistently smaller and more numerous in cells incubated in the dark compared with cells incubated in the light (Figure 2B). By contrast, no speckles were observed for GFP-COL3ΔB. The truncated COL3ΔB protein was predominantly nuclear and gave a diffuse nuclear fluorescence both in the dark and in the light (Figure 2C).

Figure 2.
COL3 Localizes to Nuclear Speckles and Colocalizes with COP1 in Onion Cells.

Thus, the N-terminal B-boxes in COL3 are required for COL3 to localize to speckles, whereas the C terminus is required for interaction with COP1 in yeast. GFP fusions of HY5, HYH, and CCT1 give diffuse nuclear fluorescence when expressed alone but localize to speckles when coexpressed with COP1. To test whether overexpression of COP1 also can localize GFP-COL3ΔB to speckles, we coexpressed the two proteins and found that in these cells GFP-COL3ΔB localized to speckles (Figure 2D).

Because both full-length COL3 and COP1 localize to speckles, we set out to examine whether the two proteins are found in the same subnuclear structures using the fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) technique. To this end, we coexpressed cyan fluorescent protein (CFP)–fused COP1 with yellow fluorescent protein (YFP)–fused COL3 and analyzed FRET by acceptor photobleaching using a confocal microscope. As shown in the top panels of Figure 2E, a nucleus coexpressing YFP-COL3 and CFP-COP1 excited with 514- and 405-nm lasers resulted in the emission of YFP and CFP, respectively, before the 514-nm bleach of the region of interest. After the bleach, emission from YFP-COL3 in the region of interest was reduced dramatically, whereas we saw a clear increase in the emission of CFP-COP1 in the region of interest (Figure 2E, bottom panels), indicating that FRET had occurred. The relative intensities of emissions from CFP-COP1 and YFP-COL3 in the region of interest, before and after bleach, are shown in Figure 2F.

Identification of a T-DNA Insertion Mutation in the COL3 Locus

To further characterize the role of COL3 in plants, we screened the Arabidopsis knockout collection at Madison, Wisconsin, for T-DNA insertions in the COL3 gene (Sussman et al., 2000). The collection was screened with primers annealing to sequences 5′ and 3′ of COL3, and we identified a T-DNA insertion within the gene (Figure 3A). The same T-DNA insertion was identified with both 5′ and 3′ primers, suggesting that the insertion consists of at least two T-DNAs inserted in a head-to-head orientation. Sequencing of the flanking regions revealed that the T-DNA was inserted in the first exon at nucleotide position 455 from the translational start site. The T-DNA results in the insertion of codons for the amino acids KSTCPAE followed by a stop codon after Glu-151 in COL3.

Figure 3.
Identification of a T-DNA Insertion in the COL3 Gene.

RNA gel blot hybridization revealed that a truncated mRNA is expressed at wild-type levels in the col3 mutant (Figure 3B). The truncated mRNA in col3 was amplified with RT-PCR, and sequencing confirmed that an mRNA fusion between COL3 and the T-DNA was transcribed (data not shown).

The T-DNA line was backcrossed into the wild type (Ws) and crossed into hy5-ks50, cop1-1, cop1-4, cop1-6, and det1-1 alleles. Analyses of these crosses revealed a single T-DNA locus cosegregating with the phenotype conferred by col3. To confirm that any observed phenotypes were indeed caused by disruption of the COL3 gene, we introduced a 4377-bp genomic construct containing the COL3 gene and 2927-bp 5′ and 456-bp 3′ sequences into the col3 mutant as well as into each of the col3 double mutants. For these genomic complementation experiments, we used the pFP100 vector, which allowed analysis in the T1 generation (Bensmihen et al., 2004).

COL3 Is a Positive Regulator of Light Signaling

To examine whether COL3 is involved in light responses, col3 seedlings were germinated in different fluences of blue, red, and far-red light. The col3 seedlings did not differ significantly from wild-type seedlings in blue or far-red light (see Supplemental Figure 1 online) but had longer hypocotyls in high-fluence red light (Figures 4A and 4B). The finding that col3 is specifically hyposensitive to high-fluence red light suggests that COL3 acts as a positive regulator of the phytochrome-mediated inhibition of hypocotyl elongation. T1 transgenic col3 seedlings transformed with pFP100-COL3 (col3COL3) displayed hypocotyl lengths similar to wild-type plants (Figure 4B), indicating that a functional COL3 gene could complement the phenotype conferred by col3 in red light. Analysis of a segregating col3 population revealed that the col3 mutation is recessive. The complementation experiments and the recessive nature of the col3 mutation are consistent with col3 being a loss-of-function mutation.

Figure 4.
col3 Seedlings Have Longer Hypocotyls When Grown under High-Fluence Red Light or Short Days.

We then examined col3 seedlings grown in white light under different daylength conditions. We found no significant difference between wild-type and col3 seedlings in constant light or under long-day conditions (16 h of light/8 h of dark) (see Supplemental Figure 2 online), but col3 showed reduced inhibition of hypocotyl elongation in short-day conditions (8 h of light/16 h of dark) (Figure 4C). Also, this phenotype was complemented in T1 transgenic col3 seedlings transformed with pFP100-COL3 (Figures 4C and 4D).

The hy5 mutation resulted in reduced inhibition of hypocotyl elongation in all light conditions. We generated a col3 hy5 double mutant and examined the hypocotyl length in different light conditions. In all conditions tested, col3 hy5 behaved like the hy5 mutation (Figures 4B and 4C; see Supplemental Figure 2 online).

col3 Plants Flower Early in Both Long and Short Days

CO, the founding member of the CO-like family, was identified as a factor promoting flowering in long days (Putterill et al., 1995). To examine whether COL3 affects flowering time, we compared col3 with co-2 grown in short days (8 h of light/16 h of dark) and long days (16 h of light/8 h of dark), respectively. We found that col3 plants flower earlier than wild-type plants in both short and long days (Figure 5). The early flowering seen in long-day-grown col3 plants is opposite that seen in co (Figure 5B) but similar to the early flowering seen in mutations in the genes encoding two COP1-interacting proteins, hy5 and hyh (Holm et al., 2002), whereas neither laf1 nor hfr1 affects flowering time (Fankhauser and Chory, 2000; Ballesteros et al., 2001).

Figure 5.
Unlike co, col3 Flowers Early in Both Long and Short Days.

COL3 Regulates Lateral Organ Formation

When grown in short-day conditions, col3 plants were taller and their primary shoots had fewer lateral branches than those of wild-type plants (Figures 6A and 6B). Neither the wild type nor col3 produced secondary shoots under our short-day growth conditions. The elongated shoot and reduced branching phenotypes were observed only in short-day conditions: no significant difference in either height or branching was seen between col3 and the wild type under long-day conditions (see Supplemental Figure 3 online). These results suggest that COL3 promotes the formation of branches and inhibits the growth of the primary shoot specifically during short days.

Figure 6.
COL3 Regulates Lateral Organ Formation as the Mutant Exhibits Reduced Branching in Both the Shoot and the Root.

The observation that the col3 mutation affects the growth of the shoot prompted us to examine whether col3 has any effect on root growth. To this end, we germinated col3 and wild-type seeds on vertical plates in constant white light and measured the growth of the primary root. As shown in Figure 6C, col3 seedlings had shorter primary roots than wild-type seedlings. The difference in root length was most pronounced at day 7 after germination and decreased at later time points. Interestingly, we found that col3 seedlings produced fewer lateral roots than wild-type seedlings (Figure 6D). T1 col3 seedlings transformed with pFP100-COL3 displayed wild-type primary root length and number of lateral roots (Figures 6C and 6D), indicating that the COL3 gene complemented both phenotypes. Because the reduction of lateral branches in the shoot was seen in short-day conditions only, we examined lateral root formation in both short and long days, but similar results were obtained in all three light conditions, indicating that the lateral root phenotype, unlike the branching phenotype, is independent of daylength.

Both COP1 and the COP1-regulated transcription factor HY5 affect lateral root formation. The cop1 mutation reduces the number of lateral roots, whereas the hy5 mutation enhances both the initiation and elongation of lateral roots (Oyama et al., 1997; Ang et al., 1998). In addition to the lateral root phenotype, hy5 seedlings show altered gravitropic and touching responses, enhanced cell elongation in root hairs, and reduced greening and secondary thickening of the root. We examined whether col3 affects any of these processes, but we found no difference in gravitropic responses, greening, secondary thickening, or root hair elongation between col3 and the wild type (data not shown).

To examine the genetic relationship between col3 and hy5 on lateral root formation, col3 hy5-ks50 double mutant seedlings were analyzed. The double mutants were indistinguishable from hy5 (Figure 6D), suggesting that hy5 is epistatic to col3 with respect to lateral root formation.

col3 Acts as a Suppressor of Both cop1 and det1

We generated double mutants between col3 and the cop1 alleles cop1-1, cop1-4, and cop1-6 as well as with det1-1 to examine the genetic relationships between these genes. col3 seedlings germinated in the dark were indistinguishable from wild-type plants (Figures 7A and 7B). However, when the col3 cop1-1, col3 cop1-4, col3 cop1-6, and col3 det1-1 double mutants were germinated in the dark, we found that the double mutants had longer hypocotyls than either the cop1 or det1 single mutant, indicating that col3 can partially suppress the hypocotyl phenotype of cop1 and det1 in the dark (Figures 7A and 7B). T1 col3 cop1-1, col3 cop1-4, col3 cop1-6, and col3 det1-1 seedlings transformed with pFP100-COL3 displayed hypocotyl lengths similar to those of the cop1 and det1 single mutants (Figure 7B), indicating that a functional COL3 gene could reverse the col3-dependant suppression.

Figure 7.
col3 Suppresses the Phenotypes Conferred by cop and det in Darkness and in the Light.

Deetiolated cop1 seedlings that have been germinated in darkness are sensitive to high-fluence light, and most of them are unable to green and will die upon transfer to white light (Ang and Deng, 1994). This COP1-dependent block-of-greening phenotype follows an allelic series and becomes more pronounced the longer the seedlings have been grown in the dark. We found that a higher percentage of col3 cop1-4 (85%) and col3 cop1-6 (57%) seedlings were able to green when germinated in the dark for 6 d and then transferred to light for 6 d compared with the cop1 single mutant (19 and 19%, respectively) (Figure 7C). The difference was smaller between cop1-1 and col3 cop1-1 (54% compared with 75%), suggesting that col3 acts as an allele-specific suppressor of this cop1 phenotype (Figure 7C). We found a reduced competence to green also in det1-1 (33% were able to green), the col3 det1-1 double mutant displayed slightly improved greening (50%), and the col3 suppression of det1-1 was similar in magnitude to the suppression of cop1-1.

In conclusion, the col3 mutation, like the hy5 mutation, can suppress the hypocotyl phenotypes of both cop1 and det1 in the dark. Furthermore, similar to hy5 and hyh, col3 acts as an allele-specific suppressor of the COP1-dependent block-of-greening phenotype.

col3 Exerts Opposing Effects on cop1 Alleles and det1-1 in Terms of Emerged Lateral Roots under High-Fluence Red Light

Although the hy5 mutation enhances the formation of lateral roots, both col3 and cop1 show reduced numbers of lateral roots. We consistently found a higher number of lateral roots formed in red light. To facilitate the analysis of the emergence of lateral roots in the double mutants, we performed the experiments in red light. Similar results, albeit with fewer lateral roots, were seen in white light.

In red light, col3, cop1-1, cop1-4, cop1-6, and det1-1 all showed reduced numbers of emerged lateral roots (Figure 8). When analyzing the double mutants, we found that col3 enhanced the phenotypes of cop1-1 and cop1-6, whereas no significant difference was seen between col3, cop1-4, and col3 cop1-4 (Figure 8), suggesting that col3 acts as an allele-specific enhancer of the lateral root phenotype in cop1. Surprisingly, col3 suppresses the lateral root phenotype of det1-1 (Figure 8). The reduced number of lateral roots in col3, the col3 enhancement of cop1-1 and cop1-6 lateral root phenotypes, and the suppression of det1-1 lateral root phenotypes were complemented in T1 seedlings carrying a functional COL3 gene (Figure 8), indicating that the phenotypes were caused by the col3 mutation.

Figure 8.
col3 Exerts Opposing Effects on cop1 Alleles and det1-1 in Terms of Emerged Lateral Roots.

Thus, although col3 partially suppresses the dark phenotype of weak cop1 and det1 alleles alike, we found very different genetic interactions in lateral root formation. Although the col3 mutation partially suppresses the reduced formation of lateral roots in the det1-1 mutant, it acts as an allele-specific enhancer of cop1-1 and cop1-6.

col3 Has Reduced Levels of Anthocyanin and Has Opposite Effects on Anthocyanin Accumulation in cop1 and det1

We found that the col3 seedlings were slightly paler than wild-type seedlings during the first days after emergence from the seed coat. We assayed chlorophyll and anthocyanin contents of the seedlings to ascertain whether col3 affects the accumulation of either of these pigments. We found no significant difference in chlorophyll content; however, col3 seedlings had approximately half the amount of anthocyanin compared with the wild type in both red and white light (40 and 46%, respectively) (Figures 9A and 9B). The difference was more pronounced at day 4 after germination and had decreased to 9% at day 7. The reduction in anthocyanin levels in 4-d-old red light–grown col3 seedlings was complemented in T1 seedlings transformed with pFP100-COL3, indicating that the phenotype was caused by the loss of the COL3 gene (Figure 9A).

Figure 9.
col3 Has Reduced Levels of Anthocyanin and Has Opposite Effects on Anthocyanin Accumulation in cop1 and det1 Mutants.

The hy5 mutation causes reduction in both chlorophyll and anthocyanin levels during deetiolation (Holm et al., 2002). Because hy5 is epistatic to col3 with respect to lateral root formation, we analyzed anthocyanin levels in the col3 hy5 double mutant. However, we found that the effect of the col3 and hy5 mutations was additive in red light, whereas the anthocyanin levels of col3 hy5 were intermediate between those of the col3 and hy5 mutants in white light, suggesting that col3 and hy5 regulate anthocyanin accumulation independently (Figures 9A and 9B).

Both cop1 and det1 have increased expression of chalcone synthase, the first committed enzyme in the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway (Chory and Peto, 1990; Deng et al., 1991). To further characterize the genetic relationship between col3, cop1, and det1, we analyzed anthocyanin accumulation in col3 cop1-6 and col3 det1-1. As seen in Figures 9C and 9D, cop1-6 and det1-1 have increased levels of anthocyanin in 4-d-old seedlings germinated in red or white light. The cop1 mutation has 12.1- and 4.5-fold increases in anthocyanin content compared with the wild type in red and white light, respectively. The det1-1 mutation results in 8.0- and 1.7-fold higher anthocyanin content than the wild type in red and white light, respectively. Double mutant analysis revealed that col3 has opposite effects on anthocyanin accumulation in the cop1 and det1 seedlings. In the case of col3 cop1-6, the anthocyanin content was reduced to 53 and 44.7% of cop1-6 levels in red and white light, respectively (Figures 9C and 9D). By contrast, col3 det1-1 had higher anthocyanin content than the det1-1 single mutant, 9.6- and 3.2-fold above wild-type levels in red and white light, respectively (Figures 9C and 9D). These results suggest that although the col3 mutation can suppress the accumulation of anthocyanin in both red light– and white light–grown cop1 seedlings, it enhances the anthocyanin accumulation in det1-1, particularly in white light.


Here, we report the identification of COL3 as a COP1-interacting protein and the characterization of a col3 loss-of-function mutant. The interaction between COP1 and COL3 that was identified in yeast two-hybrid assays is supported by colocalization and positive FRET signals between the proteins in onion epidermal cells. A functional interaction between COP1 and COL3 is further supported by phenotypic and genetic analyses of the col3 mutant.

Functional Domains in COL3

Analysis of the 16 CO-like proteins in Arabidopsis has revealed that the family is divided into three broad groups (Robson et al., 2001; Griffiths et al., 2003). COL3 is included together with CO and COL1 to COL5 in a group that has two B-boxes, a CCT domain, and a conserved six–amino acid motif in the C terminus. In animals, B-boxes are usually found in proteins that also have RING finger and coiled-coil domains. These proteins are often referred to as the RBCC (for RING, B-box, coiled-coil) or tripartite motif family. The RBCC family includes a large number of genes involved in functions such as axial patterning, growth control, differentiation, and transcriptional regulation (Torok and Etkin, 2001). The tumor suppressor Promyelocytic Leukemia (PML) gene, identified at the chromosomal breakpoint in t(15;17)-associated acute promyelocytic leukemia (de The et al., 1991; Kakizuka et al., 1991), encodes what is arguably the best-characterized RBCC protein. PML localizes to the PML nuclear body (NB), a subnuclear structure to which at least 30 proteins have been found to colocalize (Salomoni and Pandolfi, 2002). PML appears to be required for NB formation, because all NB components tested to date acquire an aberrant nuclear localization pattern in PML−/− primary cells, and their normal localization patterns can be restored by expression of PML (Zhong et al., 2000; Lallemand-Breitenbach et al., 2001). The localization of PML to NB requires functional RING finger and B-box domains, because substitutions of Zn2+ ligating residues in either of these domains disrupt PML NB formation (Borden et al., 1996). In addition, PML NB formation requires the sumoylation of Lys-160 in the first of the two B-boxes of PML, further indicating the role of the B-box domain in NB formation (Zhong et al., 2000; Lallemand-Breitenbach et al., 2001). The B-box is generally considered to mediate protein–protein interactions either directly or indirectly (Torok and Etkin, 2001), and the B-boxes in PML have been shown to interact with the GATA-2 transcription factor (Tsuzuki et al., 2000). The finding that deletion of the B-boxes in COL3 results in uniform nuclear fluorescence suggests that the COL3 B-boxes, like the PML B-boxes, are involved in speckle formation (Figure 2).

However, although RBCC proteins are found in several eukaryotes, they seem to be absent in Arabidopsis (Kosarev et al., 2002). In light of this, the interactions between the RING finger and coiled-coil domain containing COP1 protein and the B-box containing COL3, STH, and STO proteins (Holm et al., 2001) are interesting because this could bring the three domains together through protein–protein interaction. The interactions require the WD40 domain in COP1 and the C termini of COL3, STH, and STO, which would leave the RING, coiled-coil, and B-box domains available to interact with other proteins.

The CCT (for CONSTANS, CO-like, and TOC1) domain is a highly conserved basic module of ~43 amino acids often found in association with other domains, such as B-boxes, the response regulatory domain, the ZIM motif, or the DNA binding GATA-type zinc finger. Alleles with mutations in the CCT domain have been identified in both TOC1 and CO (Strayer et al., 2000; Robson et al., 2001), suggesting that the domain is functionally important. The CCT domain contains a putative nuclear localization signal within the second half of the CCT motif and has been shown to be involved in nuclear localization (Robson et al., 2001). The CCT domain probably also has a role in protein–protein interaction, and the CCT domains of CO and TOC1 (also called ABI3-interacting protein1 or APRR1) were found to interact with the Arabidopsis transcription factor ABI3 in yeast cells (Kurup et al., 2000). Furthermore, the C-terminal portion of TOC1, including the CCT domain, was found to interact with several basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors, including PIF3 (Yamashino et al., 2003).

Thus, both the B-boxes and the CCT domain appear to mediate protein–protein interactions, and although the domains are found together in the CO-like proteins, each domain is also found in proteins with no other defined domains, suggesting that they can function independently.

In addition to B-boxes and the CCT domain, the CO and COL1 to COL5 proteins contain a conserved six–amino acid motif with the consensus sequence G-I/V-V-P-S/T-F in their C termini. The motif is separated from the CCT domain by 16 to 22 amino acids. The finding that the VP pair in the COL3 motif is required for the interaction with COP1 in yeast suggests a functional role for this motif. The conservation of the motif might indicate that other group members could be COP1-interacting partners and perhaps targets of COP1-mediated degradation. Interestingly, the CO protein is stabilized by light in the evening but degraded by the proteasome in the morning and in darkness (Valverde et al., 2004). However, studies of the COP1-interacting motifs in HY5, HYH, STH, and STO indicate that although the VP pair at the core of the motif is critical, residues before the core contribute to the interaction (Holm et al., 2001), and these residues show little conservation between the CO and COL1 to COL5 proteins. Further studies are needed to determine whether the COP1 interaction with the COL3 motif regulates COL3 protein stability, but the identification of the conserved C-terminal motif in COL3 as a COP1 interaction motif could facilitate the characterization of the motif in the CO and COL1 to COL5 proteins.

COL3 Is a Positive Regulator of Light Signals and Affects Lateral Organ Formation

The T-DNA insertion in the first exon of COL3 results in a truncated mRNA that, if translated, would produce a protein consisting of the N-terminal amino acids 1 to 151 in COL3 followed by the amino acids KSTCPAE and a translational stop codon. This protein would contain the B-box domains but lack the C-terminal half of the COL3 protein, including the CCT domain.

However, the fact that we could complement all tested col3 phenotypes by introducing the COL3 gene (note that we have not tested complementation of the flowering-time phenotypes), together with the recessive nature of the col3 mutation, indicates that col3 is a loss-of-function mutation.

Because COL3 was identified as a COP1-interacting protein, we were interested in examining whether the col3 mutation is defective in any known COP1-regulated process(es). Our analysis of the col3 mutation reveled that this is indeed the case. The col3 mutation resulted in reduced inhibition of hypocotyl elongation in short-day conditions and in high-fluence red light and in early flowering in both long-day- and short-day-grown plants (Figures 4 and and5).5). Furthermore, we observed reduced branching of the shoot in short-day-grown plants and found that col3 seedlings form fewer lateral roots and show reduced accumulation of anthocyanin. These results suggest that COL3 is a positive regulator of light signaling involved in a subset of the pathways regulated by COP1. The fact that COL3 contains the B-box and CCT domains, both of which have been found in other proteins to interact with transcription factors, suggests that COL3 acts as a downstream regulator, possibly in a promoter context.

COP1 has been shown previously to interact with and promote the degradation of the transcription factors HY5, LAF1, HYH, and HFR1 in the dark. By contrast, COP1 positively regulates PIF3 accumulation in darkness (Bauer et al., 2004). All of the transcription factors degraded by COP1 act as positive regulators of light signals of single or multiple wavelengths, whereas the phytochrome-interacting bHLH proteins PIF3, PIF1, PIF4, and PIF5 act mainly as negative regulators of phytochrome signaling (Huq and Quail, 2002; Kim et al., 2003; Fujimori et al., 2004; Huq et al., 2004). However, PIF3 might differentially affect distinct branches of red light signaling, because it acts as a positive factor in anthocyanin and chlorophyll accumulation (Kim et al., 2003; Monte et al., 2004).

To further define and characterize COL3, we analyzed genetic interactions between col3 and hy5. In addition to the hypocotyl phenotype, hy5 seedlings show enhanced initiation and elongation of lateral roots, altered gravitropic and touching responses, enhanced cell elongation in root hairs, reduced greening and secondary thickening of the root, and reduced chalcone synthase expression (Oyama et al., 1997; Ang et al., 1998). Of the spectrum of phenotypes seen in hy5, the more subtle phenotypes of col3 are restricted to reduced inhibition of hypocotyl elongation in short days and red light, reduced anthocyanin accumulation, and lateral root formation. However, surprisingly and in contrast with hy5, col3 mutants have reduced formation of lateral roots. Analysis of hy5 col3 double mutants revealed that hy5 is epistatic to col3 with respect to lateral roots (Figure 6), whereas HY5 and COL3 appear to act as independent positive regulators of anthocyanin accumulation (Figure 9).

The flowering-time phenotype seen in col3 is opposite to the long-day late-flowering phenotype of co and similar to the early-flowering phenotype seen in hy5 and hyh. CO promotes flowering in response to long days; flowering is induced when CO mRNA expression coincides with the exposure of plants to light. Recent results suggest that the daily rhythm of CO transcription is refined by photoreceptor-dependent regulation of CO protein levels (Valverde et al., 2004). Light stabilizes the CO protein in the evening, whereas CO is degraded by the proteasome in the morning or in darkness.

The early flowering in col3 mutants suggests that COL3 does not act as a promoter of flowering. However, the reduced branching of the shoot seen only in short days suggests that COL3 has a positive role in this process and that COL3 might decode a subset of daylength-sensitive outputs.

All six CO and COL1 to COL5 genes are represented on the ATH1 array, and review of the diurnal experiments performed by Smith et al. (2004) using the genevestigator website revealed that the expression of all six genes shows diurnal changes. The expression of COL3 peaks at dawn, and the expression profile of COL3 most closely resembles that of COL4.

The ability to translate daylength into physiological responses requires crosstalk between light signals and the circadian clock (Hayama and Coupland, 2003). Interestingly, overexpression of COL1 in plants shortened the period of two distinct circadian rhythms in a fluence rate–dependent manner, suggesting an effect on a light-input pathway (Ledger et al., 2001). The light-dependent regulation of CO protein levels, together with the diurnal expression and conserved domain structure of all six CO and COL1 to COL5 proteins, make it tempting to speculate that these proteins act at the crossroads of light signals and the circadian clock. However, further genetic and biochemical studies are needed to address this issue.

The finding that col3 partially suppresses the hypocotyl phenotype of dark-grown cop1-1, cop1-4, cop1-6, and det1-1 alleles firmly establishes COL3 as a gene affecting COP/DET/FUS-regulated processes. Surprisingly, although col3 suppresses both cop1 and det1 in darkness, we found that col3 has different and sometimes opposing effects on cop1 and det1 in light-grown seedlings. In the root, where col3, cop1, and det1 all show reduced numbers of emerged lateral roots, col3 enhances the effect of cop1-1 and cop1-6 and suppresses the phenotype conferred by det1-1. Furthermore, although col3 suppresses the enhanced anthocyanin accumulation in cop1-6, col3 det1 seedlings have higher anthocyanin content than the det1-1 mutant.

The different effects seen in the dark and light could be attributable to the reduced nuclear abundance of COP1 in light-grown seedlings. However, it is also possible that although COP1 represses COL3 in the dark, COL3 might be regulated independently of COP1 in the light.

Several lines of evidence suggest that the mechanisms whereby col3 and hy5 suppress cop1 and det1 in the dark are similar. Both COL3 and HY5 interact physically with COP1 in yeast, and both proteins colocalize with COP1 in onions. COL3 is a nuclear protein (Figure 2), and nuclear localization of the homologous CO protein is required for CO function (Simon et al., 1996). Both col3 and hy5 are recessive loss-of-function mutations. The phenotypes of the col3 mutation suggest that COL3 promotes photomorphogenesis. The recent mechanistic understanding of the COP/DET/FUS proteins further suggests that COL3 might be targeted for degradation in the dark.

Further biochemical analysis of the COL3 protein is needed to address the mechanism by which COL3 is regulated. Our functional and genetic studies provide a framework from which a more complete understanding of light signaling can be built.


Plant Material, Growth Conditions, and Complementation Tests

The Arabidopsis thaliana col3 and hy5-ks50 (Oyama et al., 1997) alleles are in the Ws accession, the cop9-1, det1-1, cop1-1, cop1-4, and cop1-6 alleles are in the Columbia accession, and co-2 (Putterill et al., 1995) is in Landsberg erecta. Unless stated otherwise, seeds were surface-sterilized and plated on GM medium supplemented with 0.8% Bactoagar (Difco) and 1% sucrose. The plates were then cold-treated at 4°C for 3 d and transferred to light chambers maintained at 22°C with the desired light regime. For the complementation test, a 4.4-kb genomic fragment containing the full-length COL3 gene was excised from the genomic BAC clone F27A10 and inserted into the XhoI and PstI sites of the pBSK+ vector. The COL3 gene was subsequently excised with KpnI and PstI and inserted into the pFP100 vector (Bensmihen et al., 2004), containing an At2S3:E-GFP:35Ster cassette driving the expression of E-GFP in seeds, to generate pFP100-COL3. This construct was used to transform Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain GV3101 by the freeze-thaw method, which was then introduced into the col3, col3 cop1-1, col3 cop1-4, col3 cop1-6, col3 det1-1, and col3 hy5 mutant plants via the floral dip method (Clough and Bent, 1998). Transgenic T1 seeds were selected using the Leica MZFL III stereomicroscope equipped with a GFP filter. These transgenic seeds were used for phenotypic analyses, with untransformed siblings serving as controls.

Yeast Two-Hybrid Methods and Onion Experiments

The yeast strain Y190 (Kim et al., 1997) was used for the two-hybrid screen and for the two-hybrid assays. The conversion of the λACT cDNA expression library (ABRC number CD4-22) into a pACT library, the two-hybrid screen, and the β-galactosidase assays were performed as described by Holm et al. (2001). The pAVA321-S65TGFP-COL3 and pRTL2-mGFP-ΔCOL3 constructs, containing versions of the GFP (von Arnim et al., 1998), the pAM-PAT-35SS-CFP-COP1 and pAM-PAT-35SS-YFP-COL3, and the pRTL2-COP1 overexpression constructs were introduced into onion (Allium cepa) epidermal cells by particle bombardment, incubated, and examined by epifluorescence microscopy as described previously (Holm et al., 2002).

For the FRET–acceptor photobleaching experiments, live cell images were acquired using an Axiovert 200 microscope equipped with a laser-scanning confocal imaging LSM 510 META system (Carl Zeiss). Cells were visualized 24 h after particle bombardment using the confocal microscope through a Plan-Neofluor 40×/1.3 oil (differential interference contrast) objective. The multitracking mode was used to eliminate spillover between fluorescence channels. The CFP was excited by a laser diode 405 laser and the YFP by an argon-ion laser, both at low intensities. Regions of interest were selected and bleached with 100 iterations using the argon-ion laser at 100%.

Expression of AD-COL3 and the three VP-substituted COL3 fusion proteins was examined by protein gel blot analysis using polyclonal rabbit antibodies raised against COL3.

RNA Gel Blotting

Total RNA was extracted from seedlings grown in continuous white light for 6 d after their germination using the RNeasy kit (Qiagen). Twenty micrograms of total RNA was loaded for RNA gel blot analysis.

Hypocotyl and Root Experiments

For all monochromatic light assays, plates were cold-treated at 4°C for 3 d and then transferred to continuous white light for 8 h to induce uniform germination. The plates were transferred to monochromatic light conditions and incubated at 22°C for 6 d in the case of hypocotyl experiments and for 6 to 12 d for the measurement of roots. Red, far-red, and blue lights were generated by light emission diodes at 670, 735, and 470 nm, respectively (model E-30LED; Percival Scientific). Fluence rates were measured with a radiometer (model LI-250; Li-Cor). Unless stated otherwise, all experiments with the roots under red light were performed using a high fluence of 90 μmol·m−2·s−1. The hypocotyl lengths of seedlings, the lengths of the primary roots, and the numbers of lateral roots were measured/counted using ImageJ software.

Flowering-Time Experiments

For short-day and long-day measurements, seeds were sown on soil, cold-treated for 3 d at 4°C, transferred to a light chamber (model AR-36; Percival Scientific) maintained at 22°C, and grown under a 16-h-light/8-h-dark photoperiod for long days and an 8-h-light/16-h-dark photoperiod for short days. Flowering time was determined by counting the number of rosette leaves at bolting.

Anthocyanin Measurements

For the anthocyanin determinations, seedlings at 4 d after germination were weighed, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and ground, and total plant pigments were extracted overnight in 0.6 mL of 1% HCl in methanol. After addition of 0.2 mL of water, anthocyanin was extracted with 0.65 mL of chloroform. The quantity of anthocyanin was determined by spectrophotometric measurements of the aqueous phase (A530A657) and normalized to the total fresh weight of tissue used in each sample.

Block of Greening

Seedlings were germinated in the dark for 6 d and then transferred to constant white light for 6 d. Seedlings with green cotyledons and/or true leaves were scored as able to green, and those with bleached cotyledons and/or true leaves were scored as unable to green. The fluence level for white light was maintained at 80 μmol·m−2·s−1.

Accession Numbers

The COL3, COP1, DET1, and HY5 Arabidopsis Genome Initiative locus identifiers are At2g24790, At2g32950, At4g10180, and At5g11260, respectively.

Supplemental Data

The following materials are available in the online version of this article.

  • Supplemental Figure 1. col3 Seedlings Do Not Differ Significantly from the Wild Type in Blue or Far-Red Light.
  • Supplemental Figure 2. col3 Behaves like the Wild Type and col3 hy5 Seedlings Do Not Differ Significantly from hy5 under Constant White Light and Long-Day Conditions.
  • Supplemental Figure 3. Branching in col3 and Wild-Type Plants Is Similar under Long-Day Conditions.

Supplementary Material

[Supplemental Data]


We are grateful to the Arabidopsis knockout facility for the col3 T-DNA insertion line and to the Arabidopsis Stock Center for the CD4-22 yeast two-hybrid library. We acknowledge the Swegene Centre for Cellular Imaging at Gothenburg University for the use of imaging equipment and for support from the staff. We thank Johannes Hansson for valuable comments on the manuscript and François Parcy and Nieves Medina-Escobar (Max-Planck-Institut für Züchtungsforschung, Koeln, Germany) for generously providing the pFP100 and the pAM-PAT-35SS-CFP-GWY and pAM-PAT-35SS-YFP-GWY vectors, respectively. We thank Peter Carlsson, Julie Grantham, and Marc Pilon for critically reading the manuscript and Manish Rauthan for technical assistance. This work was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council, the Åke Wibergs Foundation, the Carl Trygger Foundation, the Wenner–Gren Foundation, the Magnus Bergvalls Foundation, and the Royal Society of Arts and Science in Göteborg (to M.H.) and by National Institutes of Health Grant GM-47850 (to X.-W.D.).


The author responsible for distribution of materials integral to the findings presented in this article in accordance with the policy described in the Instructions for Authors (www.plantcell.org) is: Magnus Holm (es.ug.oiblom@mloh.sungam).

W in BoxOnline version contains Web-only data.

Article, publication date, and citation information can be found at www.plantcell.org/cgi/doi/10.1105/tpc.105.038182.


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