Open Access Research article

Transcriptomic identification of candidate genes involved in sunflower responses to chilling and salt stresses based on cDNA microarray analysis

Paula Fernandez1, Julio Di Rienzo2, Luis Fernandez1, H Esteban Hopp13, Norma Paniego1 and Ruth A Heinz13*

Author Affiliations

1 Instituto de Biotecnología, CICVyA, INTA Castelar, Las Cabañas y Los Reseros, (B1712WAA) Castelar, Provincia de Buenos Aires, Argentina

2 Cátedra de Estadística y Biometría, Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina

3 Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-8-11

Published: 26 January 2008



Considering that sunflower production is expanding to arid regions, tolerance to abiotic stresses as drought, low temperatures and salinity arises as one of the main constrains nowadays. Differential organ-specific sunflower ESTs (expressed sequence tags) were previously generated by a subtractive hybridization method that included a considerable number of putative abiotic stress associated sequences. The objective of this work is to analyze concerted gene expression profiles of organ-specific ESTs by fluorescence microarray assay, in response to high sodium chloride concentration and chilling treatments with the aim to identify and follow up candidate genes for early responses to abiotic stress in sunflower.


Abiotic-related expressed genes were the target of this characterization through a gene expression analysis using an organ-specific cDNA fluorescence microarray approach in response to high salinity and low temperatures. The experiment included three independent replicates from leaf samples. We analyzed 317 unigenes previously isolated from differential organ-specific cDNA libraries from leaf, stem and flower at R1 and R4 developmental stage. A statistical analysis based on mean comparison by ANOVA and ordination by Principal Component Analysis allowed the detection of 80 candidate genes for either salinity and/or chilling stresses. Out of them, 50 genes were up or down regulated under both stresses, supporting common regulatory mechanisms and general responses to chilling and salinity. Interestingly 15 and 12 sequences were up regulated or down regulated specifically in one stress but not in the other, respectively. These genes are potentially involved in different regulatory mechanisms including transcription/translation/protein degradation/protein folding/ROS production or ROS-scavenging. Differential gene expression patterns were confirmed by qRT-PCR for 12.5% of the microarray candidate sequences.


Eighty genes isolated from organ-specific cDNA libraries were identified as candidate genes for sunflower early response to low temperatures and salinity. Microarray profiling of chilling and NaCl-treated sunflower leaves revealed dynamic changes in transcript abundance, including transcription factors, defense/stress related proteins, and effectors of homeostasis, all of which highlight the complexity of both stress responses. This study not only allowed the identification of common transcriptional changes to both stress conditions but also lead to the detection of stress-specific genes not previously reported in sunflower. This is the first organ-specific cDNA fluorescence microarray study addressing a simultaneous evaluation of concerted transcriptional changes in response to chilling and salinity stress in cultivated sunflower.