The inner-envelope K+ EFFLUX ANTIPORTERS (KEA) 1 and 2 are critical for chloroplast development, ion homeostasis, and photosynthesis. However, the mechanisms by which changes in ion flux across the envelope affect organelle biogenesis remained elusive. Chloroplast development requires intricate coordination between the nuclear genome and the plastome. Many mutants compromised in plastid gene expression (PGE) display a virescent phenotype, that is delayed greening. The phenotypic appearance of Arabidopsis thaliana kea1 kea2 double mutants fulfills this criterion, yet a link to PGE has not been explored. Here, we show that a simultaneous loss of KEA1 and KEA2 results in maturation defects of the plastid ribosomal RNAs. This may be caused by secondary structure changes of rRNA transcripts and concomitant reduced binding of RNA-processing proteins, which we documented in the presence of skewed ion homeostasis in kea1 kea2. Consequently, protein synthesis and steady-state levels of plastome-encoded proteins remain low in mutants. Disturbance in PGE and other signs of plastid malfunction activate GENOMES UNCOUPLED 1-dependent retrograde signaling in kea1 kea2, resulting in a dramatic downregulation of GOLDEN2-LIKE transcription factors to halt expression of photosynthesis-associated nuclear-encoded genes (PhANGs). PhANG suppression delays the development of fully photosynthesizing kea1 kea2 chloroplasts, probably to avoid progressing photo-oxidative damage. Overall, our results reveal that KEA1/KEA2 function impacts plastid development via effects on RNA-metabolism and PGE.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of American Society of Plant Biologists.