Heme synthesis by plastid ferrochelatase I regulates nuclear gene expression in plants

Curr Biol. 2011 May 24;21(10):897-903. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.04.004. Epub 2011 May 12.


Chloroplast signals regulate hundreds of nuclear genes during development and in response to stress, but little is known of the signals or signal transduction mechanisms of plastid-to-nucleus (retrograde) signaling. In Arabidopsis thaliana, genetic studies using norflurazon (NF), an inhibitor of carotenoid biosynthesis, have identified five GUN (genomes uncoupled) genes, implicating the tetrapyrrole pathway as a source of a retrograde signal. Loss of function of any of these GUN genes leads to increased expression of photosynthesis-associated nuclear genes (PhANGs) when chloroplast development has been blocked by NF. Here we present a new Arabidopsis gain-of-function mutant, gun6-1D, with a similar phenotype. The gun6-1D mutant overexpresses the conserved plastid ferrochelatase 1 (FC1, heme synthase). Genetic and biochemical experiments demonstrate that increased flux through the heme branch of the plastid tetrapyrrole biosynthetic pathway increases PhANG expression. The second conserved plant ferrochelatase, FC2, colocalizes with FC1, but FC2 activity is unable to increase PhANG expression in undeveloped plastids. These data suggest a model in which heme, specifically produced by FC1, may be used as a retrograde signal to coordinate PhANG expression with chloroplast development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / physiology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Chloroplasts / physiology*
  • Ferrochelatase / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant / physiology*
  • Genes, Plant / genetics
  • Heme / biosynthesis*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Photosynthesis / genetics
  • Photosynthesis / physiology
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Tetrapyrroles / metabolism


  • Tetrapyrroles
  • Heme
  • Ferrochelatase