Background: We have previously reported that the seed-specific overexpression of sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) Heat Shock Factor A9 (HaHSFA9) enhanced seed longevity in transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.). In addition, the overexpression of HaHSFA9 in vegetative organs conferred tolerance to drastic levels of dehydration and oxidative stress.
Results: Here we found that the combined overexpression of sunflower Heat Shock Factor A4a (HaHSFA4a) and HaHSFA9 enhanced all the previously reported phenotypes described for the overexpression of HaHSFA9 alone. The improved phenotypes occurred in coincidence with only subtle changes in the accumulation of small Heat Shock Proteins (sHSP) that are encoded by genes activated by HaHSFA9. The single overexpression of HaHSFA4a in vegetative organs (which lack endogenous HSFA9 proteins) did not induce sHSP accumulation under control growth conditions; neither it conferred thermotolerance. The overexpression of HaHSFA4a alone also failed to induce tolerance to severe abiotic stress. Thus, a synergistic functional effect of both factors was evident in seedlings.
Conclusions: Our study revealed that HaHSFA4a requires HaHSFA9 for in planta function. Our results strongly support the involvement of HaHSFA4a and HaHSFA9 in transcriptional co-activation of a genetic program of longevity and desiccation tolerance in sunflower seeds. These results would also have potential application for improving seed longevity and tolerance to severe stress in vegetative organs.