Background: Plants respond to abiotic stress through complex regulation of transcription, including both transcriptional activation and repression. Dehydration-responsive-element binding protein (DREB)-type transcription factors are well known to play important roles in adaptation to abiotic stress. The mechanisms by which DREB-type transcription factors activate stress-induced gene expression have been relatively well studied. However, little is known about how DREB-type transcriptional repressors modulate plant stress responses. In this study, we report the functional analysis of RAP2.1, a DREB-type transcriptional repressor.
Results: RAP2.1 possesses an APETALA2 (AP2) domain that binds to dehydration-responsive elements (DREs) and an ERF-associated amphiphilic repression (EAR) motif, as the repression domain located at the C-terminus of the protein. Expression of RAP2.1 is strongly induced by drought and cold stress via an ABA-independent pathway. Arabidopsis plants overexpressing RAP2.1 show enhanced sensitivity to cold and drought stresses, while rap2.1-1 and rap2.1-2 T-DNA insertion alleles result in reduced sensitivity to these stresses. The reduced stress sensitivity of the plant containing the rap2.1 allele can be genetically complemented by the expression of RAP2.1, but not by the expression of EAR-motif-mutated RAP2.1. Furthermore, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analysis has identified Responsive to desiccation/Cold-regulated (RD/COR) genes as downstream targets of RAP2.1 in vivo. Stress-induced expression of the RD/COR genes is repressed by overexpression of RAP2.1 and is increased in plants expressing the rap2.1 allele. In addition, RAP2.1 can negatively regulate its own expression by binding to DREs present in its own promoter. Our data suggest that RAP2.1 acts as a negative transcriptional regulator in defence responses to cold and drought stress in Arabidopsis.
Conclusions: A hypothetical model for the role of RAP2.1 in modulating plant responses to cold and drought is proposed in this study. It appears that RAP2.1 acts as a negative "subregulon" of DREB-type activators and is involved in the precise regulation of expression of stress-related genes, acting to keep stress responses under tight control.