Phosphorylation of GENOMES UNCOUPLED 4 Alters Stimulation of Mg Chelatase Activity in Angiosperms

Plant Physiol. 2016 Nov;172(3):1578-1595. doi: 10.1104/pp.16.01036. Epub 2016 Sep 29.


GENOMES UNCOUPLED 4 (GUN4) is a positive regulator of light-dependent chlorophyll biosynthesis. GUN4 activates Mg chelatase (MgCh) that catalyzes the insertion of an Mg2+ ion into protoporphyrin IX. We show that Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) GUN4 is phosphorylated at Ser 264 (S264), the penultimate amino acid residue at the C terminus. While GUN4 is preferentially phosphorylated in darkness, phosphorylation is reduced upon accumulation of Mg porphyrins. Expression of a phosphomimicking GUN4(S264D) results in an incomplete complementation of the white gun4-2 null mutant and a chlorotic phenotype comparable to gun4 knockdown mutants. Phosphorylated GUN4 has a reduced stimulatory effect on MgCh in vitro and in vivo but retains its protein stability and tetrapyrrole binding capacity. Analysis of GUN4 found in oxygenic photosynthetic organisms reveals the evolution of a C-terminal extension, which harbors the phosphorylation site of GUN4 expressed in angiosperms. Homologs of GUN4 from Synechocystis and Chlamydomonas lack the conserved phosphorylation site found in a C-terminal extension of angiosperm GUN4. Biochemical studies proved the importance of the C-terminal extension for MgCh stimulation and inactivation of GUN4 by phosphorylation in angiosperms. An additional mechanism regulating MgCh activity is proposed. In conjunction with the dark repression of 5-aminolevulinic acid synthesis, GUN4 phosphorylation minimizes the flow of intermediates into the Mg branch of the tetrapyrrole metabolic pathway for chlorophyll biosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / chemistry
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Darkness
  • Enzyme Assays
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Genotype
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / chemistry
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lyases / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorylation
  • Phosphoserine / metabolism
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Plastids / metabolism
  • Porphyrins / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • GUN4 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Porphyrins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Phosphoserine
  • Lyases
  • magnesium chelatase