Malate dehydrogenase (MDH) is widely present in nature and regulates plant growth and development, as well as playing essential roles, especially in abiotic stress responses. Nevertheless, there is no comprehensive knowledge to date on MDH family members in rice. In this study, a total of 12 MDH members in rice were identified through genome-wide analysis and divided into three groups on the basis of their phylogenetic relationship and protein-conserved motifs. Evolutionary analysis showed that MDH proteins from rice, maize and wheat shared a close phylogenetic relationship, and the MDH family was conserved in the long-term process of domestication. We identified two segmental duplication events involving four genes, which could be the major force driving the expansion of the OsMDH family. The expression profile, cis-regulatory elements and qRT-PCR results of these genes revealed that a few OsMDH showed high tissue specificity, almost all of which had stress response elements in the promoter region, and ten MDH members were significantly induced by salt stress. Through gene-based association analysis, we found a significant correlation between salt tolerance at the seedling stage and the genetic variation of OsMDH8.1 and OsMDH12.1. Additionally, we found that the polymorphism in the promoter region of OsMDH8.1 might be related to the salt tolerance of rice. This study aimed to provide valuable information on the functional study of the rice MDH gene family related to salt stress response and revealed that OsMDH8.1 might be an important gene for the cultivar improvement of salt tolerance in rice.
Keywords: MDH gene family; gene-based association study; rice (Oryza sativa L.); salt stress.