Background: All organisms perceive and respond to a profusion of environmental and endogenous signals that influence growth, development and behavior. The G-protein signalling pathway is a highly conserved mechanism for transducing extracellular signals, and the superfamily of receptors that have seven transmembrane (7TM) domains is a primary element of this pathway. Evidence that heterotrimeric G proteins are involved in signal transduction in plants is accumulating, prompting speculation that plant 7TM receptors might exist.
Results: Using information in the dbEST database of expressed sequence tags, we isolated an Arabidopsis thaliana gene (GCR1) that encodes a protein with seven predicted membrane-spanning domains and other features characteristic of 7TM receptors. The protein shows 18-23% amino-acid identity (46-53% similarity) to, and good colinear alignment with, 7TM receptors from three different families. Its highest sequence identity is with the Dictyostelium cAMP receptors. GCR1 is expressed at very low levels in the roots, stems and leaves of Arabidopsis; it is a single-copy gene which maps close to the restriction fragment length polymorphism marker m291 on chromosome 5. Transgenic Arabidopsis expressing antisense GCR1 under the control of the constitutive cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter have reduced sensitivity to cytokinins in roots and shoots, yet respond normally to all other plant hormones. This suggests a functional role for GCR1 in cytokinin signal transduction.
Conclusions: GCR1 encodes the first 7TM receptor homologue identified in higher plants and is involved in cytokinin signal transduction. This discovery suggests that 7TM receptors are ancient and predate the divergence of plants and animals.