Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) plants are cold-sensitive, and the fruit are susceptible to postharvest chilling injury when stored at low temperature. However, the mechanisms underlying cold stress responses in tomato are poorly understood. We demonstrate that SlGRAS4, encoding a transcription factor induced by low temperature, promotes chilling tolerance in tomato leaves and fruit. Combined genome-wide ChIP-seq and RNA-seq approaches identified among cold stress-associated genes those being direct targets of SlGRAS4 and protein studies revealed that SlGRAS4 forms a homodimer to self-activate its own promoter. SlGRAS4 can also directly bind tomato SlCBF promoters to activate their transcription without inducing any growth retardation. The study identifies the SlGRAS4-regulon as a new cold response pathway conferring cold stress tolerance in tomato independently of the ICE1-CBF pathway. This provides new track for breeding strategies aiming to improve chilling tolerance of cultivated tomatoes and to preserve sensory qualities of tomato fruit often deteriorated by storage at low temperatures.
Keywords: CBF; GRAS; antioxidant capacity; chilling injury; tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.).
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