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PLoS Genet. 2016 Jul 18;12(7):e1006194. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006194. eCollection 2016 Jul.

The Molecular Mechanism of Ethylene-Mediated Root Hair Development Induced by Phosphate Starvation.

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Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of Bioinformatics, Center for Plant Biology, School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.
State Key Laboratory of Plant Genomics, National Centre for Plant Gene Research, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.


Enhanced root hair production, which increases the root surface area for nutrient uptake, is a typical adaptive response of plants to phosphate (Pi) starvation. Although previous studies have shown that ethylene plays an important role in root hair development induced by Pi starvation, the underlying molecular mechanism is not understood. In this work, we characterized an Arabidopsis mutant, hps5, that displays constitutive ethylene responses and increased sensitivity to Pi starvation due to a mutation in the ethylene receptor ERS1. hps5 accumulates high levels of EIN3 protein, a key transcription factor involved in the ethylene signaling pathway, under both Pi sufficiency and deficiency. Pi starvation also increases the accumulation of EIN3 protein. Combined molecular, genetic, and genomic analyses identified a group of genes that affect root hair development by regulating cell wall modifications. The expression of these genes is induced by Pi starvation and is enhanced in the EIN3-overexpressing line. In contrast, the induction of these genes by Pi starvation is suppressed in ein3 and ein3eil1 mutants. EIN3 protein can directly bind to the promoter of these genes, some of which are also the immediate targets of RSL4, a key transcription factor that regulates root hair development. Based on these results, we propose that under normal growth conditions, the level of ethylene is low in root cells; a group of key transcription factors, including RSL4 and its homologs, trigger the transcription of their target genes to promote root hair development; Pi starvation increases the levels of the protein EIN3, which directly binds to the promoters of the genes targeted by RSL4 and its homologs and further increase their transcription, resulting in the enhanced production of root hairs. This model not only explains how ethylene mediates root hair responses to Pi starvation, but may provide a general mechanism for how ethylene regulates root hair development under both stress and non-stress conditions.

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