Distinctive features and differential regulation of the DRTS genes of Arabidopsis thaliana

In plants and protists, dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) and thymidylate synthase (TS) are part of a bifunctional enzyme (DRTS) that allows efficient recycling of the dihydrofolate resulting from TS activity. Arabidopsis thaliana possesses three DRTS genes, called AtDRTS1, AtDRTS2 and AtDRTS3, that are located downstream of three members of the sec14-like SFH gene family. In this study, a characterization of the AtDRTS genes identified alternatively spliced transcripts coding for AtDRTS isoforms which may account for monofunctional DHFR enzymes supporting pathways unrelated to DNA synthesis. Moreover, we discovered a complex differential regulation of the AtDRTS genes that confirms the expected involvement of the AtDRTS genes in cell proliferation and endoreduplication, but indicates also functions related to other cellular activities. AtDRTS1 is widely expressed in both meristematic and differentiated tissues, whereas AtDRTS2 expression is almost exclusively limited to the apical meristems and AtDRTS3 is preferentially expressed in the shoot apex, in stipules and in root cap cells. The differential regulation of the AtDRTS genes is associated to distinctive promoter architectures and the expression of AtDRTS1 in the apical meristems is strictly dependent on the presence of an intragenic region that includes the second intron of the gene. Upon activation of cell proliferation in germinating seeds, the activity of the AtDRTS1 and AtDRTS2 promoters in meristematic cells appears to be maximal at the G1/S phase of the cell cycle. In addition, the promoters of AtDRTS2 and AtDRTS3 are negatively regulated through E2F cis-acting elements and both genes, but not AtDRTS1, are downregulated in plants overexpressing the AtE2Fa factor. Our study provides new information concerning the function and the regulation of plant DRTS genes and opens the way to further investigations addressing the importance of folate synthesis with respect to specific cellular activities.