Expression and Functional Analysis of WRKY Transcription Factors in Chinese Wild Hazel, Corylus heterophylla Fisch
Plant WRKY transcription factors are known to regulate various biotic and abiotic stress responses. In this study we identified a total of 30 putative WRKY unigenes in a transcriptome dataset of the Chinese wild Hazel, Corylus heterophylla, a species that is noted for its cold tolerance. Thirteen full-length of these ChWRKY genes were cloned and found to encode complete protein sequences, and they were divided into three groups, based on the number of WRKY domains and the pattern of zinc finger structures. Representatives of each of the groups, Unigene25835 (group I), Unigene37641 (group II) and Unigene20441 (group III), were transiently expressed as fusion proteins with yellow fluorescent fusion protein in Nicotiana benthamiana, where they were observed to accumulate in the nucleus, in accordance with their predicted roles as transcriptional activators. An analysis of the expression patterns of all 30 WRKY genes revealed differences in transcript abundance profiles following exposure to cold, drought and high salinity conditions. Among the stress-inducible genes, 23 were up-regulated by all three abiotic stresses and the WRKY genes collectively exhibited four different patterns of expression in flower buds during the overwintering period from November to April. The organ/tissue related expression analysis showed that 18 WRKY genes were highly expressed in stem but only 2 (Unigene9262 and Unigene43101) were greatest in male anthotaxies. The expression of Unigene37641, a member of the group II WRKY genes, was substantially up-regulated by cold, drought and salinity treatments, and its overexpression in Arabidopsis thaliana resulted in better seedling growth, compared with wild type plants, under cold treatment conditions. The transgenic lines also had exhibited higher soluble protein content, superoxide dismutase and peroxidase activiety and lower levels of malondialdehyde, which collectively suggets that Unigene37641 expression promotes cold tolerance.