To cope with growth in low-phosphate (Pi) soils, plants have evolved adaptive responses that involve both developmental and metabolic changes. Phosphate Starvation Response 1 (PHR1) and related transcription factors play a central role in the control of Pi starvation responses (PSRs). How Pi levels control PHR1 activity, and thus PSRs, remains to be elucidated. Here, we identify a direct Pi-dependent inhibitor of PHR1 in Arabidopsis, SPX1, a nuclear protein that shares the SPX domain with yeast Pi sensors and with several Pi starvation signaling proteins from plants. Double mutation of SPX1 and of a related gene, SPX2, resulted in molecular and physiological changes indicative of increased PHR1 activity in plants grown in Pi-sufficient conditions or after Pi refeeding of Pi-starved plants but had only a limited effect on PHR1 activity in Pi-starved plants. These data indicate that SPX1 and SPX2 have a cellular Pi-dependent inhibitory effect on PHR1. Coimmunoprecipitation assays showed that the SPX1/PHR1 interaction in planta is highly Pi-dependent. DNA-binding and pull-down assays with bacterially expressed, affinity-purified tagged SPX1 and ΔPHR1 proteins showed that SPX1 is a competitive inhibitor of PHR1 binding to its recognition sequence, and that its efficiency is highly dependent on the presence of Pi or phosphite, a nonmetabolizable Pi analog that can repress PSRs. The relative strength of the SPX1/PHR1 interaction is thus directly influenced by Pi, providing a link between Pi perception and signaling.
Keywords: phosphate sensor; phosphate starvation signaling.