Response of transgenic tobacco overexpressing the CchGLP gene to cadmium and aluminium: phenotypic and microRNAs expression changes

Physiol Mol Biol Plants. 2020 Jan;26(1):3-13. doi: 10.1007/s12298-019-00716-x. Epub 2019 Oct 23.


Transgenic tobacco (N. tabacum cv. Xanthi nc) expressing Capsicum chinense CchGLP gene that encodes an Mn-SOD, constitutively produces hydrogen peroxide that increase endogenous ROS levels. Previous studies using these plants against geminivirus infections as well as drought stress confirmed that CchGLP expression conferred resistance against biotic and abiotic stresses. Cadmium (Cd) and Aluminium (Al) contamination in soils are a major ecological concern since they are two of the most widespread toxic elements in terrestrial environments. Trying to explore additional possible tolerance to another stresses in these plants, the aim of this work was to analyse the response to cadmium and aluminium salts during germination and early stages of plantlet development and a differential transcriptome of microRNAs (miRNAs) expression in expressing CchGLP transgenic lines and an azygote non-CchGLP expressing line. Plants were grown in vitro with addition of CdCl2 and AlCl3 at three different concentrations: 100, 300 and 500 μM and 50, 150 and 300 μM, respectively. The results showed higher tolerance to Cd and Al salts evaluated in two CchGLP-expressing transgenic lines L8 and L26 in comparison with the azygous non-CchGLP expressing line L1. Interestingly, L8 under Al stress presented vigorous roots and development of radicular hairs in comparison with azygous control (L1). Differentially expressed miRNAs in the comparison between L8 and L1 were associated with up and down-regulation of target genes related with structural molecule activity and ribosome constituents, as well as down-regulation in proton-transporting V-type ATPase (Vacuolar ATPase or V-ATPase). Moreover, KEGG analysis of the target genes for the differentially expressed miRNAs, led to identification of genes related with metabolic pathways and biosynthesis of secondary metabolites. One possible explanation of the tolerance to Cd and Al displayed in the transgenic tobaccos evaluated, might involve the fact that several down-regulated miRNAs, were found associated with target genes expressing V-ATPase. Specifically, miR7904-5p was down regulated and related with the up-regulation of one V-ATPase. The expression levels of these genes was confirmed by qRT-PCR assays, thus suggesting that a cation transport activity driven by the V-ATPases-dependent proton motive force, might significantly contribute as one mechanism for Cd and Al detoxification by vacuolar compartmentation in these transgenic tobacco plants.

Keywords: Abiotic stress; Aluminium resistance; Cadmium resistance; Heavy metal stress; miRNAs.