A R2R3-MYB transcription factor EsAN2 was isolated from Epimedium sagittatum and functionally characterized to regulate the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway. Epimedium plants are used widely both as traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and ornamental perennials. Anthocyanins, acting as major contributors to plant color diversity, their biosynthesis are regulated by a series of transcription factors, including MYB, bHLH and WD40 protein. Previously, a MYB transcription factor involved in regulation of the anthocyanin pathway from Epimedium sagittatum, EsMYBA1 has been isolated, but was found to be expressed mostly in leaves. In this research, another MYB transcription factor, designated as EsAN2, was isolated from flowers by the screening of E. sagittatum EST database. Preferential expression of EsAN2 in flowers and flower buds was found. Ectopic expression of EsAN2 in tobacco significantly enhanced the anthocyanin biosynthesis and accumulation, both in leaves and flowers. Most structural genes of the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway were strongly upregulated, as well as two bHLH regulators (NtAn1a and NtAn1b) in old leaves of tobacco overexpressing EsAN2, compared to the control plants. While only three structural genes, chalcone synthase (CHS), chalcone isomerase (CHI) and anthocyanidin synthase (ANS), were upregulated by EsAN2 ectopic expression in tobacco flowers. Yeast two-hybrid assay showed that EsAN2 was capable of interacting with four bHLH regulators of the anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway. These results suggest that EsAN2 is involved in regulation of the anthocyanin biosynthesis in Epimedium flowers. Identification and characterization of EsAN2 provide insight into the coloration of Epimedium flowers and a potential candidate gene for metabolic engineering of flavonoids in the future.
Keywords: Anthocyanin; Epimedium; Flavonoid; MYB; Transcription factor.