Background: In the presence of drought and other desiccating stresses, plants synthesize and redistribute the phytohormone abscisic acid (ABA). ABA promotes plant water conservation by acting on specialized cells in the leaf epidermis, guard cells, which border and regulate the apertures of stomatal pores through which transpirational water loss occurs. Following ABA exposure, solute uptake into guard cells is rapidly inhibited and solute loss is promoted, resulting in inhibition of stomatal opening and promotion of stomatal closure, with consequent plant water conservation. There is a wealth of information on the guard cell signaling mechanisms underlying these rapid ABA responses. To investigate ABA regulation of gene expression in guard cells in a systematic genome-wide manner, we analyzed data from global transcriptomes of guard cells generated with Affymetrix ATH1 microarrays, and compared these results to ABA regulation of gene expression in leaves and other tissues.
Results: The 1173 ABA-regulated genes of guard cells identified by our study share significant overlap with ABA-regulated genes of other tissues, and are associated with well-defined ABA-related promoter motifs such as ABREs and DREs. However, we also computationally identified a unique cis-acting motif, GTCGG, associated with ABA-induction of gene expression specifically in guard cells. In addition, approximately 300 genes showing ABA-regulation unique to this cell type were newly uncovered by our study. Within the ABA-regulated gene set of guard cells, we found that many of the genes known to encode ion transporters associated with stomatal opening are down-regulated by ABA, providing one mechanism for long-term maintenance of stomatal closure during drought. We also found examples of both negative and positive feedback in the transcriptional regulation by ABA of known ABA-signaling genes, particularly with regard to the PYR/PYL/RCAR class of soluble ABA receptors and their downstream targets, the type 2C protein phosphatases. Our data also provide evidence for cross-talk at the transcriptional level between ABA and another hormonal inhibitor of stomatal opening, methyl jasmonate.
Conclusions: Our results engender new insights into the basic cell biology of guard cells, reveal common and unique elements of ABA-regulation of gene expression in guard cells, and set the stage for targeted biotechnological manipulations to improve plant water use efficiency.