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Gago-Zachert, S. Viroids, infectious long non-coding RNAs with autonomous replication. Virus Res. 212, 12–24, (2016) DOI: 10.1016/j.virusres.2015.08.018

Transcriptome deep-sequencing studies performed during the last years confirmed that the vast majority of the RNAs transcribed in higher organisms correspond to several types of non-coding RNAs including long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). The study of lncRNAs and the identification of their functions, is still an emerging field in plants but the characterization of some of them indicate that they play an important role in crucial regulatory processes like flowering regulation, and responses to abiotic stress and plant hormones. A second group of lncRNAs present in plants is formed by viroids, exogenous infectious subviral plant pathogens well known since many years. Viroids are composed of circular RNA genomes without protein-coding capacity and subvert enzymatic activities of their hosts to complete its own biological cycle. Different aspects of viroid biology and viroid-host interactions have been elucidated in the last years and some of them are the main topic of this review together with the analysis of the state-of-the-art about the growing field of endogenous lncRNAs in plants.


Trenner, J., Poeschl, Y., Grau, J., Gogol-Döring, A., Quint, M. & Delker, C. Auxin-induced expression divergence between Arabidopsis species may originate within the TIR1/AFB–AUX/IAA–ARF module J. Exp. Bot. 68, 539-552, (2016) DOI: 10.1093/jxb/erw457

Auxin is an essential regulator of plant growth and development, and auxin signaling components are conserved among land plants. Yet, a remarkable degree of natural variation in physiological and transcriptional auxin responses has been described among Arabidopsis thaliana accessions. As intraspecies comparisons offer only limited genetic variation, we here inspect the variation of auxin responses between A. thaliana and A. lyrata. This approach allowed the identification of conserved auxin response genes including novel genes with potential relevance for auxin biology. Furthermore, promoter divergences were analyzed for putative sources of variation. De novo motif discovery identified novel and variants of known elements with potential relevance for auxin responses, emphasizing the complex, and yet elusive, code of element combinations accounting for the diversity in transcriptional auxin responses. Furthermore, network analysis revealed correlations of interspecies differences in the expression of AUX/IAA gene clusters and classic auxin-related genes. We conclude that variation in general transcriptional and physiological auxin responses may originate substantially from functional or transcriptional variations in the TIR1/AFB, AUX/IAA, and ARF signaling network. In that respect, AUX/IAA gene expression divergence potentially reflects differences in the manner in which different species transduce identical auxin signals into gene expression responses.


Ziegler, J., Schmidt, S., Chutia, R., Müller, J., Böttcher, C., Strehmel, N., Scheel, D. & Abel, S. Non-targeted profiling of semi-polar metabolites in Arabidopsis root exudates uncovers a role for coumarin secretion and lignification during the local response to phosphate limitation. J. Exp. Bot. 67, 1421-1432, (2016) DOI: 10.1093/jxb/erv539

Plants have evolved two major strategies to cope with phosphate (Pi) limitation. The systemic response, mainly comprising increased Pi uptake and metabolic adjustments for more efficient Pi use, and the local response, enabling plants to explore Pi-rich soil patches by reorganization of the root system architecture. Unlike previous reports, this study focused on root exudation controlled by the local response to Pi deficiency. To approach this, a hydroponic system separating the local and systemic responses was developed. Arabidopsis thaliana genotypes exhibiting distinct sensitivities to Pi deficiency could be clearly distinguished by their root exudate composition as determined by non-targeted reversed-phase ultraperformance liquid chromatography electrospray ionization quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry metabolite profiling. Compared with wild-type plants or insensitive low phosphate root 1 and 2 (lpr1 lpr2) double mutant plants, the hypersensitive phosphate deficiency response 2 (pdr2) mutant exhibited a reduced number of differential features in root exudates after Pi starvation, suggesting the involvement of PDR2-encoded P5-type ATPase in root exudation. Identification and analysis of coumarins revealed common and antagonistic regulatory pathways between Pi and Fe deficiency-induced coumarin secretion. The accumulation of oligolignols in root exudates after Pi deficiency was inversely correlated with Pi starvation-induced lignification at the root tips. The strongest oligolignol accumulation in root exudates was observed for the insensitive lpr1 lpr2 double mutant, which was accompanied by the absence of Pi deficiency-induced lignin deposition, suggesting a role of LPR ferroxidases in lignin polymerization during Pi starvation. 

Bücher und Buchkapitel

Hellmuth, A. & Calderón Villalobos, L. I. A. Radioligand Binding Assays for Determining Dissociation Constants of Phytohormone Receptors. In: Plant Proteostasis   (Lois, L. M.; Matthiesen, R. ). Meth. Mol. Biol 1450, 23-34, (2016) ISBN: 978-1-4939-3757-8 DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-3759-2_3

In receptor–ligand interactions, dissociation constants provide a key parameter for characterizing binding. Here, we describe filter-based radioligand binding assays at equilibrium, either varying ligand concentrations up to receptor saturation or outcompeting ligand from its receptor with increasing concentrations of ligand analogue. Using the auxin coreceptor system, we illustrate how to use a saturation binding assay to determine the apparent dissociation constant (K D ′ ) for the formation of a ternary TIR1–auxin–AUX/IAA complex. Also, we show how to determine the inhibitory constant (K i) for auxin binding by the coreceptor complex via a competition binding assay. These assays can be applied broadly to characterize a one-site binding reaction of a hormone to its receptor.


Strehmel, N., Mönchgesang,S., Herklotz, S., Krüger, S., Ziegler, J. & Scheel, D. Piriformospora indica Stimulates Root Metabolism of Arabidopsis thaliana. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 17, 1091, (2016) DOI: 10.3390/ijms17071091

Piriformospora indica is a root-colonizing fungus, which interacts with a variety of plants including Arabidopsis thaliana. This interaction has been considered as mutualistic leading to growth promotion of the host. So far, only indolic glucosinolates and phytohormones have been identified as key players. In a comprehensive non-targeted metabolite profiling study, we analyzed Arabidopsis thaliana’s roots, root exudates, and leaves of inoculated and non-inoculated plants by ultra performance liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UPLC/(ESI)-QTOFMS) and gas chromatography/electron ionization quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC/EI-QMS), and identified further biomarkers. Among them, the concentration of nucleosides, dipeptides, oligolignols, and glucosinolate degradation products was affected in the exudates. In the root profiles, nearly all metabolite levels increased upon co-cultivation, like carbohydrates, organic acids, amino acids, glucosinolates, oligolignols, and flavonoids. In the leaf profiles, we detected by far less significant changes. We only observed an increased concentration of organic acids, carbohydrates, ascorbate, glucosinolates and hydroxycinnamic acids, and a decreased concentration of nitrogen-rich amino acids in inoculated plants. These findings contribute to the understanding of symbiotic interactions between plant roots and fungi of the order of Sebacinales and are a valid source for follow-up mechanistic studies, because these symbioses are particular and clearly different from interactions of roots with mycorrhizal fungi or dark septate endophytes 

Publikationen in Druck

Bochnia, M., Scheidemann, W., Ziegler, J., Sander, J., Vollstedt, S., Glatter, M., Janzen, N., Terhardt, M. & Zeyner, A. Predictive value of hypoglycin A and methylencyclopropylacetic acid conjugates in a horse with atypical myopathy in comparison to its cograzing partners Equine Veterinary Education (2016) DOI: 10.1111/eve.12596

Hypoglycin A (HGA) was detected in blood and urine of a horse suffering from atypical myopathy (AM; Day 2, serum, 8290 μg/l; urine: Day 1, 574, Day 2, 742 μg/l) and in its cograzing partners with a high variability (46–1570 μg/l serum). Over the period of disease, the level of the toxic metabolites (methylencyclopropylacetic acid [MCPA]-conjugates) increased in body fluids of the AM horse (MCPA-carnitine: Day 2, 0.246, Day 3, 0.581 μmol/l serum; MCPA-carnitine: Day 2, 0.621, Day 3, 0.884 μmol/mmol creatinine in urine) and HGA decreased rapidly (Day 3, 2430 μg/l serum). In cograzing horses MCPA-conjugates were not detected. HGA in seeds ranged from 268 to 367 μg/g. Although HGA was present in body fluids of healthy cograzing horses, MCPA-conjugates were not detectable, in contrast to the AM horse. Therefore, increasing concentrations of MCPA-conjugates are supposed to be linked with the onset of AM and both parameters seem to indicate the clinical stage of disease. However, detection of HGA in body fluids of cograzing horses might be a promising step in preventing the disease.

Publikationen in Druck

Dinesh, D. C., Calderón Villalobos, L. I. A. & Abel, S. Structural Biology of Nuclear Auxin Action Trends Plant Sci. 21, 302-316, (2016) DOI: doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2015.10.019

Auxin coordinates plant development largely via hierarchical control of gene expression. During the past decades, the study of early auxin genes paired with the power of Arabidopsis genetics have unraveled key nuclear components and molecular interactions that perceive the hormone and activate primary response genes. Recent research in the realm of structural biology allowed unprecedented insight into: (i) the recognition of auxin-responsive DNA elements by auxin transcription factors; (ii) the inactivation of those auxin response factors by early auxin-inducible repressors; and (iii) the activation of target genes by auxin-triggered repressor degradation. The biophysical studies reviewed here provide an impetus for elucidating the molecular determinants of the intricate interactions between core components of the nuclear auxin response module.


López-Carrasco, A., Gago-Zachert, S., Mileti, G., Minoia, S., Flores, R. & Delgado, S. The transcription initiation sites of eggplant latent viroid strands map within distinct motifs in their in vivo RNA conformations RNA Biology 13, 83-97, (2016) DOI: 10.1080/15476286.2015.1119365

Eggplant latent viroid (ELVd), like other members of family Avsunviroidae, replicates in plastids through a symmetric rolling-circle mechanism in which elongation of RNA strands is most likely catalyzed by a nuclear-encoded polymerase (NEP) translocated to plastids. Here we have addressed where NEP initiates transcription of viroid strands. Because this step is presumably directed by sequence/structural motifs, we have previously determined the conformation of the monomeric linear (+) and (−) RNAs of ELVd resulting from hammerhead-mediated self-cleavage. In silico predictions with 3 softwares led to similar bifurcated conformations for both ELVd strands. In vitro examination by non-denaturing PAGE showed that they migrate as prominent single bands, with the ELVd (+) RNA displaying a more compact conformation as revealed by its faster electrophoretic mobility. In vitro SHAPE analysis corroborated the ELVd conformations derived from thermodynamics-based predictions in silico. Moreover, sequence analysis of 94 full-length natural ELVd variants disclosed co-variations, and mutations converting canonical into wobble pairs or vice versa, which confirmed in vivo most of the stems predicted in silico and in vitro, and additionally helped to introduce minor structural refinements. Therefore, results from the 3 experimental approaches were essentially consistent among themselves. Application to RNA preparations from ELVd-infected tissue of RNA ligase-mediated rapid amplification of cDNA ends, combined with pretreatments to modify the 5′ ends of viroid strands, mapped the transcription initiation sites of ELVd (+) and (−) strands in vivo at different sequence/structural motifs, in contrast with the situation previously observed in 2 other members of the family Avsunviroidae.


Drost, H.-G., Bellstädt, J., Ó'Maoiléidigh, D. S., Silva, A. T., Gabel, A., Weinholdt, C., Ryan, P. T., Dekkers, B. J. W., Bentsink, L., Hilhorst, H. W. M., Ligterink, W., Wellmer, F., Grosse, I. & Quint, M. Post-embryonic Hourglass Patterns Mark Ontogenetic Transitions in Plant Development Mol Biol Evol 33, 1158-1163, (2016) DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msw039

The historic developmental hourglass concept depicts the convergence of animal embryos to a common form during the phylotypic period. Recently, it has been shown that a transcriptomic hourglass is associated with this morphological pattern, consistent with the idea of underlying selective constraints due to intense molecular interactions during body plan establishment. Although plants do not exhibit a morphological hourglass during embryogenesis, a transcriptomic hourglass has nevertheless been identified in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Here, we investigated whether plant hourglass patterns are also found postembryonically. We found that the two main phase changes during the life cycle of Arabidopsis, from embryonic to vegetative and from vegetative to reproductive development, are associated with transcriptomic hourglass patterns. In contrast, flower development, a process dominated by organ formation, is not. This suggests that plant hourglass patterns are decoupled from organogenesis and body plan establishment. Instead, they may reflect general transitions through organizational checkpoints. 


Quint, M., Delker, C., Franklin, K. A., Wigge, P. A., Halliday, K. J. & van Zanten, M. Molecular and genetic control of plant thermomorphogenesis. Nat Plants 2, 15190, (2016) DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2015.190

Temperature is a major factor governing the distribution and seasonal behaviour of plants. Being sessile, plants are highly responsive to small differences in temperature and adjust their growth and development accordingly. The suite of morphological and architectural changes induced by high ambient temperatures, below the heat-stress range, is collectively called thermomorphogenesis. Understanding the molecular genetic circuitries underlying thermomorphogenesis is particularly relevant in the context of climate change, as this knowledge will be key to rational breeding for thermo-tolerant crop varieties. Until recently, the fundamental mechanisms of temperature perception and signalling remained unknown. Our understanding of temperature signalling is now progressing, mainly by exploiting the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The transcription factor PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4) has emerged as a critical player in regulating phytohormone levels and their activity. To control thermomorphogenesis, multiple regulatory circuits are in place to modulate PIF4 levels, activity and downstream mechanisms. Thermomorphogenesis is integrally governed by various light signalling pathways, the circadian clock, epigenetic mechanisms and chromatin-level regulation. In this Review, we summarize recent progress in the field and discuss how the emerging knowledge in Arabidopsis may be transferred to relevant crop systems.

The year 2015 is on track to surpass 2014 as the warmest year ever recorded since systematic temperature measurements began more than a century ago1. In fact, the 10 warmest years on record all occurred after 1998. The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change2 projects an increase of 0.8–4.8 °C in global mean surface temperature within the twenty-first century. Such figures are alarming as it is expected that this will strongly affect plant distribution and survival, and therefore threaten biodiversity3,​4,​5,​6,​7,​8,​9,​10,​11. Some studies already indicate that plant species unable to adjust flowering time in response to temperature are disappearing from certain environments5, and species tend to shift to higher altitudes and latitudes12.

Likewise, crop productivity will probably suffer greatly from global warming, while food production is required to increase significantly to sustain a growing and more demanding world population9,13,​14,​15. A meta-analysis summarizing more than 1,700 studies on the effects of climate change and adaptations on crop yields revealed consensus that in the second half of this century, climate warming is likely to have a negative effect on yields of important staple crops13.

Breeding for crop-level adaptations to cope with high temperatures could potentially reverse this negative trend9,13,​14,​15. In several plant species, mechanisms have evolved to adapt growth and morphology to stimulate mitigation of warmth through enhanced evaporative cooling, increased convection and direct avoidance of heat flux from the Sun16,​17,​18,​19,​20. If understood, the underlying molecular processes of these so-called thermomorphogenesis responses could be attractive breeding targets for improving crops to withstand climate warming.

Although abundant literature is available on how plants tolerate extreme heat stress (reviewed in refs 9,21), we are only beginning to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying thermomorphogenesis in response to moderately increased temperatures. A key breakthrough was the identification of the bHLH (basic helix–loop–helix) transcription factor PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4) as a central regulator of ambient temperature signalling in Arabidopsis22. Recent findings have implicated important roles for light signalling pathways, the circadian clock23,​24,​25,​26,​27,​28, auxin22,29,​30,​31 and other phytohormones31,​32,​33,​34 in PIF4-mediated temperature-induced growth. Furthermore, epigenetic mechanisms appear at the nexus of induction35 and attenuation36 of growth acclimation in response to high ambient temperatures.

Here we discuss and integrate recent findings on the molecular networks driving thermomorphogenic adaptations. We will highlight missing links and suggest how the knowledge on Arabidopsis could be transferred to crops. In addition to thermomorphogenesis, adaptation to high ambient temperature also involves physiological processes such as photosynthetic acclimation, respiration and changes in carbon balance. For discussions of these topics as well as on phenological changes including premature flowering, we refer the reader to reviews elsewhere20,37,​38,​39.

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