The ethylene response factor (ERF) transcription factors are integral components of environmental stress signaling cascades, regulating a wide variety of downstream genes related to stress responses and plant development. However, the mechanisms by which ERF genes regulate the heat stress response are not well understood. Here, we uncover the positive role of ethylene signaling, ERF95 and ERF97 in basal thermotolerance of Arabidopsis thaliana. We demonstrate that ethylene signaling-defective mutants exhibit compromised basal thermotolerance, whereas plants with constitutively activated ethylene response show enhanced basal thermotolerance. EIN3 physically binds to the promoters of ERF95 and ERF97. Ectopic constitutive expression of ERF95 or ERF97 increases the basal thermotolerance of plants. In contrast, erf95 erf96 erf97 erf98 quadruple mutants exhibit decreased basal thermotolerance. ERF95 and ERF97 genetically function downstream of EIN3. ERF95 can physically interact with ERF97, and this interaction is heat inducible. ERF95 and ERF97 regulate a common set of target genes, including known heat-responsive genes and directly bind to the promoter of HSFA2. Thus, our study reveals that the EIN3-ERF95/ERF97-HSFA2 transcriptional cascade may play an important role in the heat stress response, thereby establishing a connection between ethylene and its downstream regulation in basal thermotolerance of plants.
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