Open Access Research article

The ORCA2 transcription factor plays a key role in regulation of the terpenoid indole alkaloid pathway

Chun Yao Li1, Alex L Leopold1, Guy W Sander2, Jacqueline V Shanks3, Le Zhao3 and Susan I Gibson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA

2 Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN 55812, USA

3 Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:155  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-155

Published: 8 October 2013



The terpenoid indole alkaloid (TIA) pathway leads to the production of pharmaceutically important drugs, such as the anticancer compounds vinblastine and vincristine. Unfortunately, these drugs are produced in trace amounts, causing them to be very costly. To increase production of these drugs, an improved understanding of the TIA regulatory pathway is needed. Towards this end, transgenic Catharanthus roseus hairy roots that overexpress the ORCA2 TIA transcriptional activator were generated and characterized.


Transcriptional profiling experiments revealed that overexpression of ORCA2 results in altered expression of key genes from the indole and terpenoid pathways, which produce precursors for the TIA pathway, and from the TIA pathway itself. In addition, metabolite-profiling experiments revealed that overexpression of ORCA2 significantly affects the levels of several TIA metabolites. ORCA2 overexpression also causes significant increases in transcript levels of several TIA regulators, including TIA transcriptional repressors.


Results presented here indicate that ORCA2 plays a critical role in regulation of TIA metabolism. ORCA2 regulates expression of key genes from both feeder pathways, as well as the genes (STR and SGD) encoding the enzymes that catalyze the first two steps in TIA biosynthesis. ORCA2 may play an especially important role in regulation of the downstream branches of the TIA pathway, as it regulates four out of five genes characterized from this part of the pathway. Regulation of TIA transcriptional repressors by ORCA2 may provide a mechanism whereby increases in TIA metabolite levels in response to external stimuli are transient and limited in magnitude.

Terpenoid indole alkaloids; ORCA2; Catharanthus roseus; Hairy root cultures