Background: Carbon and nitrogen are two signals that influence plant growth and development. It is known that carbon- and nitrogen-signaling pathways influence one another to affect gene expression, but little is known about which genes are regulated by interactions between carbon and nitrogen signaling or the mechanisms by which the different pathways interact.
Results: Microarray analysis was used to study global changes in mRNA levels due to carbon and nitrogen in Arabidopsis thaliana. An informatic analysis using InterAct Class enabled us to classify genes on the basis of their responses to carbon or nitrogen treatments. This analysis provides in vivo evidence supporting the hypothesis that plants have a carbon/nitrogen (CN)-sensing/regulatory mechanism, as we have identified over 300 genes whose response to combined CN treatment is different from that expected from expression values due to carbon and nitrogen treatments separately. Metabolism, energy and protein synthesis were found to be significantly affected by interactions between carbon and nitrogen signaling. Identified putative cis-acting regulatory elements involved in mediating CN-responsive gene expression suggest multiple mechanisms for CN responsiveness. One mechanism invokes the existence of a single CN-responsive cis element, while another invokes the existence of cis elements that promote nitrogen-responsive gene expression only when present in combination with a carbon-responsive cis element.
Conclusion: This study has allowed us to identify genes and processes regulated by interactions between carbon and nitrogen signaling and take a first step in uncovering how carbon- and nitrogen-signaling pathways interact to regulate transcription.