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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comprehensive analysis of CCCH zinc finger family in poplar (Populus trichocarpa)

Guohua Chai1, Ruibo Hu1, Dongyuan Zhang1, Guang Qi1, Ran Zuo1, Yingping Cao1, Peng Chen1, Yingzhen Kong2* and Gongke Zhou1*

Author affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Biofuels, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shandong Provincial Key Laboratory of Energy Genetics, Qingdao Institute of BioEnergy and Bioprocess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao, 266101, PR China

2 Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, University of Georgia, 315 Riverbend Road, Athens, GA, 30602, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:253  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-253

Published: 18 June 2012



CCCH zinc finger proteins contain a typical motif of three cysteines and one histidine residues and serve regulatory functions at all stages of mRNA metabolism. In plants, CCCH type zinc finger proteins comprise a large gene family represented by 68 members in Arabidopsis and 67 in rice. These CCCH proteins have been shown to play diverse roles in plant developmental processes and environmental responses. However, this family has not been studied in the model tree species Populus to date.


In the present study, a comprehensive analysis of the genes encoding CCCH zinc finger family in Populus was performed. Using a thorough annotation approach, a total of 91 full-length CCCH genes were identified in Populus, of which most contained more than one CCCH motif and a type of non-conventional C-X11-C-X6-C-X3-H motif was unique for Populus. All of the Populus CCCH genes were phylogeneticly clustered into 13 distinct subfamilies. In each subfamily, the gene structure and motif composition were relatively conserved. Chromosomal localization of these genes revealed that most of the CCCHs (81 of 90, 90 %) are physically distributed on the duplicated blocks. Thirty-four paralogous pairs were identified in Populus, of which 22 pairs (64.7 %) might be created by the whole genome segment duplication, whereas 4 pairs seem to be resulted from tandem duplications. In 91 CCCH proteins, we also identified 63 putative nucleon-cytoplasm shuttling proteins and 3 typical RNA-binding proteins. The expression profiles of all Populus CCCH genes have been digitally analyzed in six tissues across different developmental stages, and under various drought stress conditions. A variety of expression patterns of CCCH genes were observed during Populus development, of which 34 genes highly express in root and 22 genes show the highest level of transcript abundance in differentiating xylem. Quantitative real-time RT-PCR (RT-qPCR) was further performed to confirm the tissue-specific expression and responses to drought stress treatment of 12 selected Populus CCCH genes.


This study provides the first systematic analysis of the Populus CCCH proteins. Comprehensive genomic analyses suggested that segmental duplications contribute significantly to the expansion of Populus CCCH gene family. Transcriptome profiling provides first insights into the functional divergences among members of Populus CCCH gene family. Particularly, some CCCH genes may be involved in wood development while others in drought tolerance regulation. Our results presented here may provide a starting point for the functional dissection of this family of potential RNA-binding proteins.