Calmodulin-like proteins (CMLs) represent a large family of plant calcium sensor proteins involved in the regulation of plant responses to environmental cues and developmental processes. In the present work, we identified four alternatively spliced mRNA forms of the grapevine CML21 gene that encoded proteins with distinct N-terminal regions. We studied the transcript abundance of CML21v1, CML21v2, CML21v3, and CML21v4 in wild-growing grapevine Vitis amurensis Rupr. in response to desiccation, heat, cold, high salinity, and high mannitol stress using quantitative real-time RT-PCR. The levels of all four splice variants of VaCML21 were highly induced in response to cold stress. In addition, VaCML21v1 and VaCML21v2 forms were highly modulated by all other abiotic stress treatments. Constitutive expression of VaCML21v2 and VaCML21v4 improved biomass accumulation of V. amurensis callus cell cultures under prolonged low temperature stress. Heterologous expression of the grapevine CML21v2 and VaCML21v4 splice variants in Arabidopsis improved survival rates of the transgenic plants after freezing. The VaCML21v2 overexpression enhanced activation of the cold stress-responsive marker genes AtDREB1A and AtDREB2A, while VaCML21v4 overexpression-AtCOR47, AtRD29A, AtRD29B, and AtKIN1 genes after freezing stress in the transgenic Arabidopsis. The results indicate that the grapevine CML21 gene acts as a positive regulator in the plant response to cold stress. The detected variety of CML21 transcripts and their distinct transcriptional responses suggested that this expansion of mRNA variants could contribute to the diversity of grapevine adaptive reactions.
Keywords: Vitis amurensis; calcium sensor protein; cold stress; mRNA splice variants; transgenic plants and cell cultures.