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Open Access Research article

The unique evolution of the programmed cell death 4 protein in plants

Shijun Cheng1, Renyi Liu2 and Daniel R Gallie1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0129, USA

2 Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0129, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:199  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-199

Published: 16 September 2013



The programmed cell death 4 (PDCD4) protein is induced in animals during apoptosis and functions to inhibit translation and tumor promoter-induced neoplastic transformation. PDCD4 is composed of two MA3 domains that share similarity with the single MA3 domain present in the eukaryotic translation initiation factor (eIF) 4G, which serves as a scaffold protein to assemble several initiation factors needed for the recruitment of the 40S ribosomal subunit to an mRNA. Although eIF4A is an ATP-dependent RNA helicase that binds the MA3 domain of eIF4G to promote translation initiation, binding of eIF4A to the MA3 domains of PDCD4 inhibits protein synthesis. Genes encoding PDCD4 are present in many lower eukaryotes and in plants, but PDCD4 in higher plants is unique in that it contains four MA3 domains and has been implicated in ethylene signaling and abiotic stress responses. Here, we examine the evolution of PDCD4 in plants.


In older algal lineages, PDCD4 contains two MA3 domains similar to the homolog in animals. By the appearance of early land plants, however, PDCD4 is composed of four MA3 domains which likely is the result of a duplication of the two MA3 domain form of the protein. Evidence from fresh water algae, from which land plants evolved, suggests that the duplication event occurred prior to the colonization of land. PDCD4 in more recently evolved chlorophytes also contains four MA3 domains but this may have resulted from an independent duplication event. Expansion and divergence of the PDCD4 gene family occurred during land plant evolution with the appearance of a distinct gene member following the evolution of basal angiosperms.


The appearance of a unique form of PDCD4 in plants correlates with the appearance of components of the ethylene signaling pathway, suggesting that it may represent the adaptation of an existing protein involved in programmed cell death to one that functions in abiotic stress responses through hormone signaling.

MA3 domain, PDCD4, eIF4G; eIF4A; Translation initiation; Domain duplication; Hormone signaling