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Plant Signal Behav. 2010 March; 5(3): 284–286.
PMCID: PMC2881279

ERECTA controls low light intensity-induced differential petiole growth independent of phytochrome B and cryptochrome 2 action in Arabidopsis thaliana


Plants can respond quickly and profoundly to changes in their environment. Several species, including Arabidopsis thaliana, are capable of differential petiole growth driven upward leaf movement (hyponastic growth) to escape from detrimental environmental conditions. Recently, we demonstrated that the leucine-rich repeat receptor-like Ser/Thr kinase gene ERECTA, explains a major effect Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) for ethylene-induced hyponastic growth in Arabidopsis. Here, we demonstrate that ERECTA controls the hyponastic growth response to low light intensity treatment in a genetic background dependent manner. Moreover, we show that ERECTA affects low light-induced hyponastic growth independent of Phytochrome B and Cryptochrome 2 signaling, despite that these photoreceptors are positive regulators of low light-induced hyponastic growth.

Key words: hyponastic growth, petiole, Arabidopsis, low light, ERECTA, differential growth, phytochrome B, cryptochrome 2

Plants must adjust growth and reproduction to adverse environmental conditions. Among the strategies that plants employ to escape from unfavorable conditions is differential petiole growth-driven upward leaf movement, called hyponastic growth. Arabidopsis thaliana is able to exhibit a marked hyponastic response upon flooding, which is triggered by endogenous accumulation of the gaseous phytohormone ethylene.1 Moreover, a similar response is triggered upon low light intensity perception and in response to supra-optimal temperatures.25 By tilting the leaves to a more vertical position during submergence and shading, the plants restore contact with the atmosphere and light, respectively. The kinetics of the hyponastic growth response induced by the various stimuli is remarkably similar. This led to the hypothesis that shared functional genetic components may be employed to control hyponastic growth. Yet, at least part of the signaling cascades is parallel, as the hormonal control of the response differs between the stimuli. Low light-induced hyponastic growth for example does not require ethylene action.2 Whereas the response to heat is antagonized by this hormone.5 The abiotic stress hormone abscisic acid (ABA) antagonizes ethylene-induced hyponastic growth and stimulates heat-induced hyponastic growth.5,6 Moreover, ethylene-induced hyponasty does not involve auxin action7 whereas both heat- and low light-induced hyponasty require functional auxin signaling and transport components.2,5

In our recent paper, published in The Plant Journal,8 we employed Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) analysis to identify loci involved in the control of ethylene-induced hyponastic petiole growth. By analyzing induced mutants and by complementation analysis of naturally occurring mutant accessions, we found that the leucine-rich repeat receptor-like Ser/Thr kinase gene ERECTA (ER) is a positive regulator of ethylene-induced hyponastic growth and most likely is causal to one of the identified QTLs. In addition, we demonstrated that the ER dependency is not via ER mediated control of ethylene production or sensitivity.

Since low light-induced hyponasty does not require ethylene action,2 ER may be part of the proposed shared signaling cascade leading to hyponastic growth where ethylene and low light signals meet. Therefore, we studied low light intensity-induced hyponasty in various erecta mutants. Moreover, natural occurring er mutant accessions complemented with a functional, Col-0 derived, ER allele were tested. The response of Lan-0 (Lan-0; with functional ER) to low light was indistinguishable from the response of Landsberg erecta (Ler) (Fig. 1A). However, complemented Ler (ER-Ler) showed an enhanced response compared to Ler (Fig. 1B). The response of mutant er105 was slightly attenuated compared to the wild type Columbia-0 (Fig. 1C). Mutant er104, however, showed an indistinguishable hyponastic growth phenotype to low light compared to the wild type Wassilewskija-2 (Ws-2) (Fig. 1D). Complementation of the natural occurring erecta mutant accession Vancouver-0 (Van-0) resulted in an enhanced hyponastic growth response to low light (Fig. 1E), whereas this was not the case for Hiroshima-1 (Hir-1) (Fig. 1F). Together, these data suggest that ER acts as positive regulator of low light-induced hyponastic growth and therefore may be part of the shared signaling cascade towards differential petiole growth. Yet, the effect is strongly dependent on the genetic background since the effects were not observed in every accession tested.

Figure 1
ERECTA involvement in low light-induced hyponasty. Effect of exposure to low light (spectral neutral reduction in light intensity from 200 to 20 µmol m−2 s−1) on the kinetics of hyponastic petiole growth in Arabidopsis thaliana ...

Phytochrome B (PhyB) and Cryptochrome 2 (Cry2) photoreceptor proteins are required for a full induction of low light-induced hyponastic growth.2 We transformed the phyb5 cry2 mutant9 (Ler genetic background) with Col-0 derived ER. This complementation did not restore the ability of phyb5 cry2 to induce hyponastic growth to neither ethylene (data not shown) nor low light conditions (Fig. 2A). Mutant phyb5 cry2 plants have a typical constitutive shade avoidance phenotype, reflected by severely elongated organs. This includes enhanced inflorescence and silique length and thin inflorescences (Fig. 2B-D). Complementation with ER resulted in a significant additional effect on these parameters (Fig. 2B-D). Together, this suggests that ER is not an integral part of PhyB nor Cry2 signaling with respect to (hyponastic) growth. Moreover, PhyB and Cry2 control of plant architecture does not require ER action. Rather, ER seems to mediate growth via genetic interaction with light-reliant growth mechanisms, instead of being downstream of photoreceptor action. Studies on the effects of ER on shade avoidance responses and various hormone responses, including cytokinin and auxin, led to the similar conclusion, suggesting a possible role for ER as a molecular hub coordinating light- and hormone-mediated plant growth.10,11 One could speculate that ER fine-tunes other (than light) environmental clues with light signaling components. A comparable conclusion was drawn previously for gibberellin (GA) reliant growth mechanisms, as er enhanced the negative effect on plant size of the short internode (shi) mutation12 and er represses the positive effect of the spindly mutation in a GA independent manner.13

Figure 2
Effects of ERECTA on light signaling. (A) Effect of exposure to low light (spectral neutral reduction in light intensity from 200 to 20 µmol m−2 s−1) on the kinetics of hyponastic petiole growth of Ler (dashed lines), the photoreceptor ...


The phyb5 cry2 mutant was a kind gift from J.J. Casal (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina).



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