Ethylene-Related Gene Expression Networks in Wood Formation
Seyfferth C, Wessels B, Jokipii-Lukkari S, Sundberg B, Delhomme N, Felten J, Tuominen H

Thickening of tree stems is the result of secondary growth, accomplished by the meristematic activity of the vascular cambium. Secondary growth of the stem entails developmental cascades resulting in the formation of secondary phloem outwards and secondary xylem (i.e., wood) inwards of the stem. Signaling and transcriptional reprogramming by the phytohormone ethylene modifies cambial growth and cell differentiation, but the molecular link between ethylene and secondary growth remains unknown. We addressed this shortcoming by analyzing expression profiles and co-expression networks of ethylene pathway genes using the AspWood transcriptome database which covers all stages of secondary growth in aspen (Populus tremula) stems. ACC synthase expression suggests that the ethylene precursor 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid (ACC) is synthesized during xylem expansion and xylem cell maturation. Ethylene-mediated transcriptional reprogramming occurs during all stages of secondary growth, as deduced from AspWood expression profiles of ethylene-responsive genes. A network centrality analysis of the AspWood dataset identified EIN3D and 11 ERFs as hubs. No overlap was found between the co-expressed genes of the EIN3 and ERF hubs, suggesting target diversification and hence independent roles for these transcription factor families during normal wood formation. The EIN3D hub was part of a large co-expression gene module, which contained 16 transcription factors, among them several new candidates that have not been earlier connected to wood formation and a VND-INTERACTING 2 (VNI2) homolog. We experimentally demonstrated Populus EIN3D function in ethylene signaling in Arabidopsis thaliana. The ERF hubs ERF118 and ERF119 were connected on the basis of their expression pattern and gene co-expression module composition to xylem cell expansion and secondary cell wall formation, respectively. We hereby establish data resources for ethylene-responsive genes and potential targets for EIN3D and ERF transcription factors in Populus stem tissues, which can help to understand the range of ethylene targeted biological processes during secondary growth.

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