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Elucidating the evolutionary history and expression patterns of nucleoside phosphorylase paralogs (vegetative storage proteins) in Populus and the plant kingdom

Emily A Pettengill1*, James B Pettengill2 and Gary D Coleman1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland, Plant Science Building, College Park, Maryland, 20742, USA

2 Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland, Takoma Park, Maryland, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:118  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-118

Published: 19 August 2013



Nucleoside phosphorylases (NPs) have been extensively investigated in human and bacterial systems for their role in metabolic nucleotide salvaging and links to oncogenesis. In plants, NP-like proteins have not been comprehensively studied, likely because there is no evidence of a metabolic function in nucleoside salvage. However, in the forest trees genus Populus a family of NP-like proteins function as an important ecophysiological adaptation for inter- and intra-seasonal nitrogen storage and cycling.


We conducted phylogenetic analyses to determine the distribution and evolution of NP-like proteins in plants. These analyses revealed two major clusters of NP-like proteins in plants. Group I proteins were encoded by genes across a wide range of plant taxa while proteins encoded by Group II genes were dominated by species belonging to the order Malpighiales and included the Populus Bark Storage Protein (BSP) and WIN4-like proteins. Additionally, we evaluated the NP-like genes in Populus by examining the transcript abundance of the 13 NP-like genes found in the Populus genome in various tissues of plants exposed to long-day (LD) and short-day (SD) photoperiods. We found that all 13 of the Populus NP-like genes belonging to either Group I or II are expressed in various tissues in both LD and SD conditions. Tests of natural selection and expression evolution analysis of the Populus genes suggests that divergence in gene expression may have occurred recently during the evolution of Populus, which supports the adaptive maintenance models. Lastly, in silico analysis of cis-regulatory elements in the promoters of the 13 NP-like genes in Populus revealed common regulatory elements known to be involved in light regulation, stress/pathogenesis and phytohormone responses.


In Populus, the evolution of the NP-like protein and gene family has been shaped by duplication events and natural selection. Expression data suggest that previously uncharacterized NP-like proteins may function in nutrient sensing and/or signaling. These proteins are members of Group I NP-like proteins, which are widely distributed in many plant taxa. We conclude that NP-like proteins may function in plants, although this function is undefined.

Nucleoside phosphorylases; Vegetative storage proteins; Bark storage proteins; Nitrogen cycling; Populus trichocarpa