Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A novel RNA binding protein affects rbcL gene expression and is specific to bundle sheath chloroplasts in C4 plants

Shaun M Bowman12, Minesh Patel13, Pradeep Yerramsetty1, Christopher M Mure1, Amy M Zielinski1, Jeremy A Bruenn1 and James O Berry1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA

2 Current Address: Biology Department, Clarke University, Dubuque, IA 52001, USA

3 Current Address: Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:138  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-138

Published: 22 September 2013

Abstract

Background

Plants that utilize the highly efficient C4 pathway of photosynthesis typically possess kranz-type leaf anatomy that consists of two morphologically and functionally distinct photosynthetic cell types, the bundle sheath (BS) and mesophyll (M) cells. These two cell types differentially express many genes that are required for C4 capability and function. In mature C4 leaves, the plastidic rbcL gene, encoding the large subunit of the primary CO2 fixation enzyme Rubisco, is expressed specifically within BS cells. Numerous studies have demonstrated that BS-specific rbcL gene expression is regulated predominantly at post-transcriptional levels, through the control of translation and mRNA stability. The identification of regulatory factors associated with C4 patterns of rbcL gene expression has been an elusive goal for many years.

Results

RLSB, encoded by the nuclear RLSB gene, is an S1-domain RNA binding protein purified from C4 chloroplasts based on its specific binding to plastid-encoded rbcL mRNA in vitro. Co-localized with LSU to chloroplasts, RLSB is highly conserved across many plant species. Most significantly, RLSB localizes specifically to leaf bundle sheath (BS) cells in C4 plants. Comparative analysis using maize (C4) and Arabidopsis (C3) reveals its tight association with rbcL gene expression in both plants. Reduced RLSB expression (through insertion mutation or RNA silencing, respectively) led to reductions in rbcL mRNA accumulation and LSU production. Additional developmental effects, such as virescent/yellow leaves, were likely associated with decreased photosynthetic function and disruption of associated signaling networks.

Conclusions

Reductions in RLSB expression, due to insertion mutation or gene silencing, are strictly correlated with reductions in rbcL gene expression in both maize and Arabidopsis. In both plants, accumulation of rbcL mRNA as well as synthesis of LSU protein were affected. These findings suggest that specific accumulation and binding of the RLSB binding protein to rbcL mRNA within BS chloroplasts may be one determinant leading to the characteristic cell type-specific localization of Rubisco in C4 plants. Evolutionary modification of RLSB expression, from a C3 “default” state to BS cell-specificity, could represent one mechanism by which rbcL expression has become restricted to only one cell type in C4 plants.

Keywords:
C4 photosynthesis; S1-domain RNA binding protein; rbcL gene expression; Cell-type specificity; Post transcriptional control; C4 maize; C3Arabidopsis