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New Phytol. 2017 Sep;215(4):1462-1475. doi: 10.1111/nph.14680. Epub 2017 Jul 12.

Regulation of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) drought responses by mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase cascade-mediated phosphorylation of GhWRKY59.

Li F1,2, Li M1,3,4, Wang P2,5, Cox KL Jr2, Duan L1, Dever JK6, Shan L2, Li Z1, He P3.

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State Key Laboratory of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, College of Agronomy and Biotechnology, China Agricultural University, Beijing, 100193, China.
Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Institute for Plant Genomics & Biotechnology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 77843, USA.
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Institute for Plant Genomics & Biotechnology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 77843, USA.
National Engineering Research Center for Vegetables, Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, Beijing, 100097, China.
College of Science, China Agricultural University, Beijing, 100193, China.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 1102 East FM 1294, Lubbock, TX, 79403, USA.


Drought is a key limiting factor for cotton (Gossypium spp.) production, as more than half of the global cotton supply is grown in regions with high water shortage. However, the underlying mechanism of the response of cotton to drought stress remains elusive. By combining genome-wide transcriptome profiling and a loss-of-function screen using virus-induced gene silencing, we identified Gossypium hirsutum GhWRKY59 as an important transcription factor that regulates the drought stress response in cotton. Biochemical and genetic analyses revealed a drought stress-activated mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase cascade consisting of GhMAP3K15-Mitogen-activated Protein Kinase Kinase 4 (GhMKK4)-Mitogen-activated Protein Kinase 6 (GhMPK6) that directly phosphorylates GhWRKY59 at residue serine 221. Interestingly, GhWRKY59 is required for dehydration-induced expression of GhMAPK3K15, constituting a positive feedback loop of GhWRKY59-regulated MAP kinase activation in response to drought stress. Moreover, GhWRKY59 directly binds to the W-boxes of DEHYDRATION-RESPONSIVE ELEMENT-BINDING PROTEIN 2 (GhDREB2), which encodes a dehydration-inducible transcription factor regulating the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA)-independent drought response. Our study identified a complete MAP kinase cascade that phosphorylates and activates a key WRKY transcription factor, and elucidated a regulatory module, consisting of GhMAP3K15-GhMKK4-GhMPK6-GhWRKY59-GhDREB2, that is involved in controlling the cotton drought response.


WRKY transcription factor; cotton; dehydration-responsive element-binding protein (DREB); drought stress; mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase cascade; phosphorylation

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