The retrograde signaling protein GUN1 regulates tetrapyrrole biosynthesis

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Dec 3;116(49):24900-24906. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1911251116. Epub 2019 Nov 15.


The biogenesis of the photosynthetic apparatus in developing seedlings requires the assembly of proteins encoded on both nuclear and chloroplast genomes. To coordinate this process there needs to be communication between these organelles, but the retrograde signals by which the chloroplast communicates with the nucleus at this time are still essentially unknown. The Arabidopsis thaliana genomes uncoupled (gun) mutants, that show elevated nuclear gene expression after chloroplast damage, have formed the basis of our understanding of retrograde signaling. Of the 6 reported gun mutations, 5 are in tetrapyrrole biosynthesis proteins and this has led to the development of a model for chloroplast-to-nucleus retrograde signaling in which ferrochelatase 1 (FC1)-dependent heme synthesis generates a positive signal promoting expression of photosynthesis-related genes. However, the molecular consequences of the strongest of the gun mutants, gun1, are poorly understood, preventing the development of a unifying hypothesis for chloroplast-to-nucleus signaling. Here, we show that GUN1 directly binds to heme and other porphyrins, reduces flux through the tetrapyrrole biosynthesis pathway to limit heme and protochlorophyllide synthesis, and can increase the chelatase activity of FC1. These results raise the possibility that the signaling role of GUN1 may be manifested through changes in tetrapyrrole metabolism, supporting a role for tetrapyrroles as mediators of a single biogenic chloroplast-to-nucleus retrograde signaling pathway.

Keywords: chloroplast; gun mutants; heme; retrograde signaling; tetrapyrrole.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / physiology
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Chloroplasts / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Ferrochelatase
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Heme / metabolism
  • Light-Harvesting Protein Complexes / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Photosynthesis / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Tetrapyrroles / biosynthesis*


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • GUN1 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Light-Harvesting Protein Complexes
  • Tetrapyrroles
  • Heme
  • FC1 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Ferrochelatase