Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification and analysis of MKK and MPK gene families in canola (Brassica napus L.)

Wanwan Liang1, Bo Yang1, Bao-Jun Yu1, Zili Zhou1, Cui Li1, Ming Jia1, Yun Sun1, Yue Zhang1, Feifei Wu1, Hanfeng Zhang1, Boya Wang1, Michael K Deyholos2 and Yuan-Qing Jiang1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Crop Stress Biology for Arid Areas and College of Life Sciences, Northwest A & F University, Yangling, Shaanxi 712100, China

2 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2E9, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:392  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-392

Published: 11 June 2013



Eukaryotic mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK/MPK) signaling cascades transduce and amplify environmental signals via three types of reversibly phosphorylated kinases to activate defense gene expression. Canola (oilseed rape, Brassica napus) is a major crop in temperate regions. Identification and characterization of MAPK and MAPK kinases (MAPKK/MKK) of canola will help to elucidate their role in responses to abiotic and biotic stresses.


We describe the identification and analysis of seven MKK (BnaMKK) and 12 MPK (BnaMPK) members from canola. Sequence alignments and phylogenetic analyses of the predicted amino acid sequences of BnaMKKs and BnaMPKs classified them into four different groups. We also examined the subcellular localization of four and two members of BnaMKK and BnaMPK gene families, respectively, using green fluorescent protein (GFP) and, found GFP signals in both nuclei and cytoplasm. Furthermore, we identified several interesting interaction pairs through yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) analysis of interactions between BnaMKKs and BnaMPKs, as well as BnaMPK and BnaWRKYs. We defined contiguous signaling modules including BnaMKK9-BnaMPK1/2-BnaWRKY53, BnaMKK2/4/5-BnaMPK3/6-BnaWRKY20/26 and BnaMKK9-BnaMPK5/9/19/20. Of these, several interactions had not been previously described in any species. Selected interactions were validated in vivo by a bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) assay. Transcriptional responses of a subset of canola MKK and MPK genes to stimuli including fungal pathogens, hormones and abiotic stress treatments were analyzed through real-time RT-PCR and we identified a few of BnaMKKs and BnaMPKs responding to salicylic acid (SA), oxalic acid (OA), Sclerotinia sclerotiorum or other stress conditions. Comparisons of expression patterns of putative orthologs in canola and Arabidopsis showed that transcript expression patterns were generally conserved, with some differences suggestive of sub-functionalization.


We identified seven MKK and 12 MPK genes from canola and examined their phylogenetic relationships, transcript expression patterns, subcellular localization, and protein-protein interactions. Not all expression patterns and interactions were conserved between canola and Arabidopsis, highlighting the limitations of drawing inferences about crops from model species. The data presented here provide the first systematic description of MKK-MPK-WRKY signaling modules in canola and will further improve our understanding of defense responses in general and provide a basis for future crop improvement.

Abiotic stress; Biotic stress; Brassica napus; MKK; MPK; Sclerotinia sclerotiorum; WRKY