In plants, sensing the levels of external and internal nutrients is essential for reprogramming the transcriptome and adapting to the fluctuating environment. Phosphate (Pi) is a key plant nutrient, and a large proportion of Pi starvation-responsive genes are under the control of Phosphate Starvation Response Regulator 1 (PHR1) in Arabidopsis (AtPHR1) and its homologs, such as Oryza sativa (Os)PHR2 in rice. AtPHR1 and OsPHR2 expression is not very responsive to Pi starvation, raising the question as to how plants sense changes in cellular Pi levels to activate the central regulator. SPX [named after SYG1 (suppressor of yeast gpa1), Pho81 (CDK inhibitor in yeast PHO pathway), and XPR1 (xenotropic and polytropic retrovirus receptor)] proteins that harbor only the SPX domain are reported to be involved in the negative regulation of Pi starvation responses. Here, we show that the nuclear localized SPX proteins SPX1 and SPX2 are Pi-dependent inhibitors of the activity of OsPHR2 in rice. Indeed, SPX1 and SPX2 proteins interact with PHR2 through their SPX domain, inhibiting its binding to P1BS (the PHR1-binding sequence: GNATATNC). In vivo data, as well as results from in vitro experiments using purified SPX1, SPX2, and OsPHR2 proteins, showed that SPX1 and SPX2 inhibition of OsPHR2 activity is Pi-dependent. These data provide evidence to support the involvement of SPX1 and SPX2 in the Pi-sensing mechanism in plants.
Keywords: PHR2; Pi signaling; Pi-dependent inhibition; SPX-domain protein.