Cross-family transcription factor interaction between MYC2 and GBFs modulates terpenoid indole alkaloid biosynthesis

J Exp Bot. 2018 Aug 14;69(18):4267-4281. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ery229.


Biosynthesis of medicinally valuable terpenoid indole alkaloids (TIAs) in Catharanthus roseus is regulated by transcriptional activators such as the basic helix-loop-helix factor CrMYC2. However, the transactivation effects are often buffered by repressors, such as the bZIP factors CrGBF1 and CrGBF2, possibly to fine-tune the accumulation of cytotoxic TIAs. Questions remain as to whether and how these factors interact to modulate TIA production. We demonstrated that overexpression of CrMYC2 induces CrGBF expression and results in reduced alkaloid accumulation in C. roseus hairy roots. We found that CrGBF1 and CrGBF2 form homo- and heterodimers to repress the transcriptional activities of key TIA pathway gene promoters. We showed that CrGBFs dimerize with CrMYC2, and CrGBF1 binds to the same cis-elements (T/G-box) as CrMYC2 in the target gene promoters. Our findings suggest that CrGBFs antagonize CrMYC2 transactivation possibly by competitive binding to the T/G-box in the target promoters and/or protein-protein interaction that forms a non-DNA binding complex that prevents CrMYC2 from binding to its target promoters. Homo- and heterodimer formation allows fine-tuning of the amplitude of TIA gene expression. Our findings reveal a previously undescribed regulatory mechanism that governs the TIA pathway genes to balance metabolic flux for TIA production in C. roseus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Catharanthus / genetics*
  • Catharanthus / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Secologanin Tryptamine Alkaloids / metabolism*


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Plant Proteins
  • Secologanin Tryptamine Alkaloids