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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Feb 26;110(9):3621-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1222375110. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Retrograde bilin signaling enables Chlamydomonas greening and phototrophic survival.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


The maintenance of functional chloroplasts in photosynthetic eukaryotes requires real-time coordination of the nuclear and plastid genomes. Tetrapyrroles play a significant role in plastid-to-nucleus retrograde signaling in plants to ensure that nuclear gene expression is attuned to the needs of the chloroplast. Well-known sites of synthesis of chlorophyll for photosynthesis, plant chloroplasts also export heme and heme-derived linear tetrapyrroles (bilins), two critical metabolites respectively required for essential cellular activities and for light sensing by phytochromes. Here we establish that Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, one of many chlorophyte species that lack phytochromes, can synthesize bilins in both plastid and cytosol compartments. Genetic analyses show that both pathways contribute to iron acquisition from extracellular heme, whereas the plastid-localized pathway is essential for light-dependent greening and phototrophic growth. Our discovery of a bilin-dependent nuclear gene network implicates a widespread use of bilins as retrograde signals in oxygenic photosynthetic species. Our studies also suggest that bilins trigger critical metabolic pathways to detoxify molecular oxygen produced by photosynthesis, thereby permitting survival and phototrophic growth during the light period.

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