Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Transcriptional profiling in response to terminal drought stress reveals differential responses along the wheat genome

Alessio Aprile12, Anna M Mastrangelo3, Anna M De Leonardis3, Gabor Galiba4, Enrica Roncaglia5, Francesco Ferrari56, Luigi De Bellis2, Luana Turchi7, Giovanni Giuliano7 and Luigi Cattivelli13*

Author Affiliations

1 CRA-Genomic Research Centre, Via S.Protaso 302, 29017 Fiorenzuola d'Arda, Piacenza, Italy

2 Department of Science and Biological and Environmental Technologies, University of Salento, Provinciale Lecce-Monteroni, 73100 Lecce, Italy

3 CRA-Cereal Research Centre, Strada Statale16, km 675, Foggia, Italy

4 Agricultural Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2462 Martonvasar, Hungary

5 University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Via Campi 287, 41100, Modena, Italy

6 University of Padova, Department of Biology, Via G. Colombo 3, 35121, Padova, Italy

7 ENEA-Casaccia Research Centre, Via Anguillarese 301, 00123 Roma, Italy

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BMC Genomics 2009, 10:279  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-279

Published: 24 June 2009



Water stress during grain filling has a marked effect on grain yield, leading to a reduced endosperm cell number and thus sink capacity to accumulate dry matter. The bread wheat cultivar Chinese Spring (CS), a Chinese Spring terminal deletion line (CS_5AL-10) and the durum wheat cultivar Creso were subjected to transcriptional profiling after exposure to mild and severe drought stress at the grain filling stage to find evidences of differential stress responses associated to different wheat genome regions.


The transcriptome analysis of Creso, CS and its deletion line revealed 8,552 non redundant probe sets with different expression levels, mainly due to the comparisons between the two species. The drought treatments modified the expression of 3,056 probe sets. Besides a set of genes showing a similar drought response in Creso and CS, cluster analysis revealed several drought response features that can be associated to the different genomic structure of Creso, CS and CS_5AL-10. Some drought-related genes were expressed at lower level (or not expressed) in Creso (which lacks the D genome) or in the CS_5AL-10 deletion line compared to CS. The chromosome location of a set of these genes was confirmed by PCR-based mapping on the D genome (or the 5AL-10 region). Many clusters were characterized by different level of expression in Creso, CS and CS_AL-10, suggesting that the different genome organization of the three genotypes may affect plant adaptation to stress. Clusters with similar expression trend were grouped and functional classified to mine the biological mean of their activation or repression. Genes involved in ABA, proline, glycine-betaine and sorbitol pathways were found up-regulated by drought stress. Furthermore, the enhanced expression of a set of transposons and retrotransposons was detected in CS_5AL-10.


Bread and durum wheat genotypes were characterized by a different physiological reaction to water stress and by a substantially different molecular response. The genome organization accounted for differences in the expression level of hundreds of genes located on the D genome or controlled by regulators located on the D genome. When a genomic stress (deletion of a chromosomal region) was combined with low water availability, a molecular response based on the activation of transposons and retrotransposons was observed.