Previous investigations have shown that the SUPPRESSORS OF MAX2 1-LIKE6, 7 and 8 (SMXL6, 7 and 8) proteins redundantly repress strigolactone (SL) signaling in plant growth and development. Recently, a growing body of evidence indicated that SLs positively regulate plant drought resistance through functional analyses of genes involved in SL biosynthesis and positive regulation of SL signaling. However, the functions of the SL-signaling negative regulators SMXL6, 7 and 8 in drought resistance and the associated mechanisms remain elusive. To reveal the functions of these SMXL proteins, we analyzed the drought-resistant phenotype of the triple smxl6,7,8 mutant plants and studied several drought resistance-related traits. Our results showed that the smxl6,7,8 mutant plants were more resistant to drought than wild-type plants. Physiological investigations indicated that the smxl6,7,8 mutant plants exhibited higher leaf surface temperature, reduced cuticle permeability, as well as decreases in drought-induced water loss and cell membrane damage in comparison with wild-type plants. Additionally, smxl6,7,8 mutant plants displayed an increase in anthocyanin biosynthesis during drought, enhanced detoxification capacity and increased sensitivity to abscisic acid in cotyledon opening and growth inhibition assays. A good correlation between the expression levels of some relevant genes and the examined physiological and biochemical traits was observed. Our findings together indicate that the SMXL6, 7 and 8 act as negative regulators of drought resistance, and that disruption of these SMXL genes in crops may provide a novel way to improve their drought resistance.
Keywords: SMXL; abscisic acid; drought resistance; strigolactone.