The maize pericarp color1 (p1) gene encodes a Myb transcription factor that regulates the accumulation of 3-deoxyflavonoid pigments called phlobaphenes. The Unstable factor for orange1 (Ufo1) is a dominant epigenetic modifier of the p1 that results in ectopic pigmentation in pericarp. Presence of Ufo1-1 correlates with pleiotropic growth and developmental defects. To investigate the Ufo1-1-induced changes in the proteome, we conducted comparative proteomics analysis of P1-wr; Ufo1-1 pericarps using the 2-D DIGE and iTRAQ techniques. Most of the identified proteins were found to be involved in glycolysis, protein synthesis and modification, flavonoid and lignin biosynthesis and defense responses. Further, immunoblot analysis of internode protein extracts demonstrated that caffeoyl CoA O-methyltransferase (COMT) is post-transcriptionally down regulated in P1-wr; Ufo1-1 plants. Consistent with the down regulation of COMT, the concentrations of p-coumaric acid, syringaldehydes, and lignin are reduced in P1-wr; Ufo1-1 internodes. The reductions in these phenylpropanoids correlate with the bent stalk and stunted growth of P1-wr; Ufo1-1 plants. Finally, over-expression of the p1 in transgenic plants is also correlated with a lodging phenotype and reduced COMT expression. We conclude that ectopic expression of p1 can result in developmental defects that are correlated with altered regulation and synthesis of phenylpropanoid compounds including lignin. Biological significance: Transcription factors have specific expression patterns that ensure that the biochemical pathways under their control are active in relevant tissues. Plant breeders can select for alleles of transcription factors that produce desirable expression patterns to improve a plant's growth, development, and defense against insects and pathogens. The resulting de novo accumulation of metabolites in plant tissues in significant quantities could have beneficial and/or detrimental consequences. To understand this problem we investigated how the aberrant expression of a classically-studied transcription factor pericarp color1 (p1) which regulates phenylpropanoid metabolism, affects the maize proteome in pericarp tissue. We utilized a dominant mutant Unstable factor for orange 1-1 (Ufo1-1) which reduces the epigenetic suppression of p1 in various tissues throughout the maize plant. Our proteomic analysis shows how, in the presence of Ufo1-1, key enzymes of the glycolytic and shikimic acid pathways were modulated to produce substrates required for flavonoid synthesis. The finding that the presence of Ufo1-1 affected the expression levels of various enzymes in the lignin pathway was of particular interest. We show that lignin was reduced in Ufo1-1 plants expressing p1 and was associated with the post-transcriptional down regulation of CoA O-methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme. We further correlated the down-regulation of COMT with plant bending phenotype in Ufo1-1 plants expressing p1 and to a stalk lodging phenotype of transgenic p1 plants. This study demonstrates that although there can be adverse consequences to aberrantly overexpressing transcription factors, there might also be benefits such as being able to reduce lignin content for biofuel crops. However, more research will be required to understand the genetic and epigenetic regulation of transcription factors and how their expression can be optimized to obtain desired traits in preferred tissue types. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Translational Plant Proteomics.
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