Network-Guided Discovery of Extensive Epistasis between Transcription Factors Involved in Aliphatic Glucosinolate Biosynthesis

Plant Cell. 2018 Jan;30(1):178-195. doi: 10.1105/tpc.17.00805. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


Plants use diverse mechanisms influenced by vast regulatory networks of indefinite scale to adapt to their environment. These regulatory networks have an unknown potential for epistasis between genes within and across networks. To test for epistasis within an adaptive trait genetic network, we generated and tested 47 Arabidopsis thaliana double mutant combinations for 20 transcription factors, which all influence the accumulation of aliphatic glucosinolates, the defense metabolites that control fitness. The epistatic combinations were used to test if there is more or less epistasis depending on gene membership within the same or different phenotypic subnetworks. Extensive epistasis was observed between the transcription factors, regardless of subnetwork membership. Metabolite accumulation displayed antagonistic epistasis, suggesting the presence of a buffering mechanism. Epistasis affecting enzymatic estimated activity was highly conditional on the tissue and environment and shifted between both antagonistic and synergistic forms. Transcriptional analysis showed that epistasis shifts depend on how the trait is measured. Because the 47 combinations described here represent a small sampling of the potential epistatic combinations in this genetic network, there is potential for significantly more epistasis. Additionally, the main effect of the individual gene was not predictive of the epistatic effects, suggesting that there is a need for further studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics
  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Genotype
  • Glucosinolates / biosynthesis*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Glucosinolates
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors