In plants, the ERF/EREBP family of transcriptional regulators plays a key role in adaptation to various biotic and abiotic stresses. These proteins contain a conserved AP2 DNA-binding domain and several uncharacterized motifs. Here, we describe a short motif, termed 'EDLL', that is present in AtERF98/TDR1 and other clade members from the same AP2 sub-family. We show that the EDLL motif, which has a unique arrangement of acidic amino acids and hydrophobic leucines, functions as a strong activation domain. The motif is transferable to other proteins, and is active at both proximal and distal positions of target promoters. As such, the EDLL motif is able to partly overcome the repression conferred by the AtHB2 transcription factor, which contains an ERF-associated amphiphilic repression (EAR) motif. We further examined the activation potential of EDLL by analysis of the regulation of flowering time by NF-Y (nuclear factor Y) proteins. Genetic evidence indicates that NF-Y protein complexes potentiate the action of CONSTANS in regulation of flowering in Arabidopsis; we show that the transcriptional activation function of CONSTANS can be substituted by direct fusion of the EDLL activation motif to NF-YB subunits. The EDLL motif represents a potent plant activation domain that can be used as a tool to confer transcriptional activation potential to heterologous DNA-binding proteins.
© 2012 Mendel Biotechnology Inc. The Plant Journal © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.