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Staff Publications

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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

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Ambient temperature‐directed flowering time regulation : the role of alternative splicing
Verhage, Dina Sara Leonie - \ 2017
University. Promotor(en): Gerco Angenent, co-promotor(en): Richard Immink; Guusje Bonnema. - Wageningen : Wageningen University - ISBN 9789462579705 - 161
plants - flowering date - flowering - temperature - alternative splicing - molecular biology - genes - planten - bloeidatum - bloei - temperatuur - alternatieve splitsing - moleculaire biologie - genen

As a consequence of a sessile lifestyle, plants are constantly facing a fluctuating environment. In order to both profit maximally and protect themselves from these environmental cues, plants evolved ways to sense and respond to signals.

Ambient temperature is one of the cues for which plants have acquired a strategy to enhance their chance of survival and reproduction. Small changes in ambient temperature can have major effects on plant architecture and development, such as the transition from the vegetative to the reproductive flowering phase. The moment of flowering is an important event in the life cycle of a plant, since reproductive success depends on it.

In Chapter 1, I introduced the concept of alternative splicing, a molecular mechanism with a pivotal role in ambient temperature regulation of flowering time. In the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, approximately 60% of the intron-containing genes show alternative splicing. Gene splicing varies depending on developmental stage and tissue type, but also environmental changes trigger differential splicing. Splicing is conducted by a large cellular machinery called the spliceosome, which recognizes intron-defining sequences and other cis-regulatory elements acting as splicing enhancers or silencers. Moreover, factors like chromatin structure, histone marks, RNA polymerase II (polII) elongation speed and the secondary structure of the pre-mRNA all play a role in the splicing outcome. Due to alternative splicing, a single gene can yield various transcripts. However, this does not cause an equal expansion of the proteome. Part of the transcripts are targeted for nonsense-mediated decay, or will be translated into unstable proteins. This is a way of regulating gene expression at the post-transcriptional or –translational level. Other transcripts will be translated into functional proteins that may be structurally and functionally different. Hence, alternative splicing creates additional complexity in the transcriptome, providing plants with molecular tools to respond to their environment, including the translation of ambient temperature alterations into a flowering time response.
In Chapter 2, we reviewed the current knowledge on molecular mechanisms that control the ambient-temperature directed flowering time pathway in the plant model species Arabidopsis thaliana. Several different mechanisms have been proposed, like alternative splicing of FLOWERING LOCUS M (FLM) (described in Chapter 4) and protein degradation of SHORT VEGETATIVE PHASE (SVP), two mechanisms that probably work in a cooperative manner to release floral repression at higher ambient temperatures. Another mechanism that is involved at high ambient temperature is the replacement of the canonical histone H2A by the variant H2A.Z. As a consequence of this replacement, chromatin becomes less tightly wrapped around the nucleosomes, which allows transcription of flowering time activators, such as PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTOR 4 (PIF4). Lastly, we discuss microRNAs (miRNA) that can either repress or activate flowering (miR156 and miR172, respectively). These miRNAs have been proposed to be regulated by low and high ambient temperature. However, due to the lack of mutant analyses, more research is necessary to show the true involvement of these factors. Altogether, there are several mechanisms acting partly in cooperation to regulate thermosensitive floral timing.
In Chapter 3, we analysed ambient temperature-directed alternative splicing events that occur after a temperature shift by RNAseq. We performed the experiment in two different accessions of A. thaliana, and in one variant of B. oleracea (cauliflower). We showed that flowering time genes are overrepresented amongst the ambient temperature induced alternatively spliced genes, but also genes encoding components of the splicing machinery itself, indicating that alternative splicing is one of the potential mechanisms by which plants are able to sense temperature and adapt floral timing. Analysis of a mutant for one of these alternatively-spliced splicing related factors, ATU2AF65A, showed a temperature-dependent flowering time phenotype, confirming its proposed role in the flowering time response upon temperature fluctuations. Based on these findings, we proposed a two-step model in which splicing related genes are targeted for differential splicing upon ambient temperature fluctuations, which results in changes in the composition of the spliceosome, causing differential splicing of downstream genes that affect the development and architecture of the plant, including flowering time.
In Chapter 4, we investigated the molecular mode-of-action of FLM, one of the differentially spliced flowering time regulating genes that we identified in Chapter 3. We showed that in A. thaliana Col-0, the main splice forms of FLM are FLMβ and FLMδ. FLMβ forms an obligate heterodimer with SVP, and this complex represses floral integrators like SUPPRESSOR OF OVEREXPRESSION OF CONSTANS1 (SOC1) by binding to the regulatory regions of these genes. FLMδ also dimerizes with SVP, but this complex is not able to bind to DNA. When temperature rises, more FLMδ is produced at the cost of FLMβ. Hence, less repressive complexes can be formed. However, the fact that FLMδ is still able to binds SVP makes it function as a dominant negative form, titrating out SVP and preventing repressive SVP/FLMβ-complex formation.
Chapter 5 is a short comment written to clarify the concept of thermoplasticity in flowering time control. Occasionally, this concept is confused with adaptation to different ambient temperature environments on the long term. Thermoplasticity is the ability to adapt flowering time to fluctuations in ambient temperature within one life cycle. Furthermore, some genes have been marked as players in the ambient temperature response, whereas these appear to be general flowering repressors or activators, affecting flowering time in a similar manner at low and high ambient temperature. In order to interpret novel findings on thermosensitive flowering time control, it is essential to distinguish between these various concepts.
In chapter 6, we unveiled the first indications that differential splicing of FLM can be caused by differences in polymerase II elongation rate. We mimicked a situation in which FLM is transcribed at a higher rate, by expressing the genomic FLM gene under a strong artificial promoter. Preliminary results showed that plants harbouring this construct have altered flowering time and temperature-responsiveness, which can be explained by the altered FLMβ/FLMδ ratio that we observed.
In chapter 7, we assessed the functional conservation between FLM and closely related genes at the intraspecific level in A. thaliana. FLM (also called MAF1) is a member of the FLC-clade, that consists of FLC, FLM and MAF2-5. FLC is widely known for its function in the vernalization pathway, whereas MAF2 has been shown to regulate flowering time through alternative splicing in a way very similar to FLM. For the other MAF genes, not much is known. We showed that all of these genes produce splicing isoforms that function in a more or less similar way to FLM and MAF2. Despite the high functional conservation at the intraspecific level, FLM and MAF orthologues are not widely present. Through synteny analysis, we showed that FLM and MAF2 are very recent genes, which are only present in a small group of Brassicaceae species. MAF3-5 originated less recently, but are not present outside the Brassicaceae. For FLC, it was previously shown that it originated from an ancestor of the seed plants, and in many plant species belonging to other families, presence of more than one FLC-like gene has been reported. This raises the question what the function of these genes is. In tomato, we showed that the FLC-like gene MBP8 becomes differentially spliced upon temperature changes, suggesting a function in the ambient temperature pathway. A binding assay showed high similarities of the different MBP8 isoforms to FLM and MAF isoforms, but suggests a slightly different functionality, since all three isoforms showed binding to the DNA. Further research is necessary to confirm the role of MBP8 in thermosensitive flowering time control, and elucidate the functionality of the different splice forms.
In Chapter 8, I discussed the finding of this thesis in a broader perspective, and make suggestions for future research. Over the last few years, several mechanisms that act in the temperature-directed floral pathway have been revealed. In this thesis, we showed that alternative splicing plays an important role, and we demonstrated how temperature may affect the splicing outcome directly through the effect of temperature on transcription elongation rate. It is becoming clear that most likely a single thermosensor does not exist in plants, and a model in which temperature is sensed through thermodynamic properties of DNA, RNA and proteins, is gaining support. Future research is assigned to the exiting task to elucidate the exact mechanisms by which temperature-sensing is achieved in different plant species and to determine how conserved the currently identified molecular mechanisms are.

Assessing the impact of alternative splicing on the diversity and evolution of the proteome in plants
Severing, E.I. - \ 2011
University. Promotor(en): W. Stiekema, co-promotor(en): Roeland van Ham. - [S.l.] : S.n. - ISBN 9789461730961 - 119
planten - genomica - rna - alternatieve splitsing - evolutie - plants - genomics - alternative splicing - evolution

Splicing is one of the key processing steps during the maturation of a gene’s primary transcript into the mRNA molecule used as a template for protein production. Splicing involves the removal of segments called introns and re-joining of the remaining segments called exons. It is by now well established that not always the same segments are removed from a gene’s primary transcript during the splicing process. The consequence of this splicing variation, termed Alternative Splicing (AS), is that multiple distinct mature mRNA molecules can be produced from a single gene.

One of the two biological roles that are ascribed to AS is that of a mechanism which enables an organism to produce multiple functionally distinct proteins from a single gene. Alternatively, AS can serve as a means for controlling gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. Although many clear examples have been reported for both roles, the extent to which AS increases the functional diversity of the proteome, regulates gene expression or simply reflects noise in splicing machinery is not well known.

Determining the full functional impact of AS by designing and performing wet-lab experiments for all AS events is unfeasible and bioinformatics approaches have therefore widely been used for studying the impact of AS at a genome-wide scale. In this thesis four bioinformatics studies are presented that were aimed at determining the extent to which AS is used in plants as a mechanism for producing multiple distinct functional proteins from a single gene. Each chapter uses a different method for analyzing specific properties of AS.

Under the premise that functional genetic features are more likely to be conserved than non-functional ones, AS events that are present in two or more species are more likely to be biologically relevant than those that are confined to a single species. In chapter 2 we analyzed the conservation of AS by performing a comparative analysis between three divergent plant species. The results of that study indicated that the vast majority of AS events does not persist over long periods of evolution. We concluded, based on this lack of conservation, that AS only has a limited impact on the functional diversity of the proteome in plants. Following this conclusion, it can hypothesized that the variation that AS induces at the transcriptome level is not likely to be manifested at the protein level. In chapter 3 we tested this hypothesis by analyzing two independent proteomics datasets. This type of data can be used to directly identify proteins present in a biological sample. Our results indicated that the variation induced by AS at the transcriptome level is also manifested at the protein level. We concluded that either many AS events have a confined species-specific (not conserved) function or simply produce protein variants that are stable enough to escape rapid turn-over.

Another method for determining whether AS increases the functional diversity of the proteome is by determining whether protein sequence variations that are typically induced by AS are common within the plant kingdom. We found (chapter 4) that this is not the case in plants and concluded that novel functions do not frequently arise through AS. We also found that most of the AS-induced variation is lost, similarly as for redundant gene copies, within a very short evolutionary time period.

One limitation of genome-wide analyses is that these capture only the more general patterns. However, the functional impact of AS can be very different in different genes or gene-families. In order fully assess the functional impact of AS, it is therefore important to also study the process within the functional context of individual genes or gene families. In chapter 5 we demonstrated this concept by performing a detailed analysis of AS within the MADS-box gene family. We were able to provide clues as to how AS might impact the protein-protein interaction capabilities of individual MADS proteins. Some of our predictions were supported by experimental evidence. We further showed how AS can serve as an evolutionary mechanism for experimenting with novel functions (novel interactions) without the explicit loss of existing functions.

The overall conclusion, based on the performed analyses is as follows: AS primarily is a consequence of noise in the splicing machinery and results in an increased diversity of the proteome. However, only a small fraction of the proteins resulting from AS will have beneficial functions and are subsequently selected for during evolution. The large remaining fraction is, similarly as for redundant gene-copies, lost within a very short evolutionary time period after its emergence.

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