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HandWiki. WRKY Transcription Factor. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31717 (accessed on 21 April 2024).
HandWiki. WRKY Transcription Factor. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31717. Accessed April 21, 2024.
HandWiki. "WRKY Transcription Factor" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31717 (accessed April 21, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, October 28). WRKY Transcription Factor. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31717
HandWiki. "WRKY Transcription Factor." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 October, 2022.
WRKY Transcription Factor
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The WRKY transcription factor family (pronounced ‘worky’) is a class of DNA-binding proteins. WRKY transcription factors are primarily specific to plants and algae (Viridiplantae); although, individual WRKY proteins do appear in the human protozoan parasite Giardia lamblia and slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum. These transcription factors recognize a (T/A)TGAC(T/A) cis-regulatory element, also known as a W-box, in the promoters of target genes. WRKY transcription factors play a major role in plant defense to abiotic and biotic stresses, but also contribute to plant development and secondary metabolism. These roles are governed by an ever increasingly complex network of interactions with other DNA-binding and non-DNA-binding proteins.

plant development plant defense slime mold

1. Structural Diversity

WRKY transcription factors are denoted by a 60-70 amino acid WRKY protein domain composed of a conserved WRKYGQK motif and a zinc-finger region.[1] Based on the amino acid sequence WRKY transcription factors are classified into three major categories, group I, group II, and group III. Group I WRKY proteins are primarily denoted by the presence of two WRKY protein domains, whereas both groups II and III each possess only one domain. Group III WRKY proteins have a C2HC zinc finger instead of the C2H2 motif of group I and II factors. The structure of several plant WRKY domains has been elucidated using crystallography [2] and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.[3]

2. History

The first WRKY transcription factor, (SPF1), was identified in 1994 for its involvement in sucrose regulation of gene expression in sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas).[4] A year later, two WRKY transcription factors, ABF1 and ABF2, established the role of WRKY proteins as a novel family of transcriptional regulators.[5] In 1996 three parsley (Petroselinum crispum) WRKY transcription factors (WRKY1, WRKY2, and WRKY3) were identified for their role in regulation of the PATHOGENESIS RELATED1 gene.[6] This was the first of many studies identifying WRKY transcription factors in regulating gene expression for plant defense. By 2000 a review paper published identifying the WRKY transcription factor family in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana (commonly called mouse-ear cress or thale cress) lead to a widespread investigation of WRKY family members.[7] Since then WRKY transcription factors have been extensively investigated for stress tolerance in many agronomic and horticulture crops.

3. Evolution

The WRKY transcription factor family is ubiquitously present in the green plant lineage. Most algae contain one or a few WRKY proteins, whereas even the earliest land plant, moss (Physcomitrella patens), possesses at least 30 WRKY factors. Most vascular plants contain in excess of 50 WRKY transcription factors. Outside of plant WRKY proteins have been identified in Giardia lamblia and Dictyostelium discoideum. However, little is known about the function of these proteins. Of these two WRKY proteins, WRKY1 of Giardia has been demonstrated to be involved in cell wall formation,[8] a process also likely important to algae and early land plants. WRKYs have recently been found in the white button mushroom Agaricus bisporus.[9] It remains unclear how and why the WRKY proteins dramatically expanded and diversified in the plant lineage but not algae.

Several early reports proposed that a group I WRKY transcription factor was the progenitor of the family.[10] It was thought that a single group I WRKY domain occurred first and then duplicated to form the original ancestral WRKY transcription factor. However, more recent evidence suggests that WRKY transcription factors evolved from a single group IIc-like gene, which then diversified into group I, group IIc, and group IIa+b domains.[11] The original WRKY protein domain has been proposed to have arisen from the GCM1 and FLYWCH zinc finger factors.[12] GCM1 and FLYWCH are proposed ancestral proteins base on their crystal structural similarity to the WRKY domain.[13] Both GCM1 and FLYWCH belong to families of DNA-binding factors found in metazoan. The plant specific NAC transcription factor family also shares a common structural shape and origin with WRKY transcription factors.[14]

During plant evolution the WRKY family has dramatically expanded, which is proposed to be a result of through duplication.[15] Some species including Arabidopsis thaliana, rice (Oryza sativa), and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) have WRKY groups which dramatically expanded and diversified in recent evolutionary history.[16] However, differences in expression, not variation in gene sequences, have likely lead to the diverse functions of WRKY genes.[17] Such a model is plausible as WRKY family members are part of numerous phytohormone, developmental, and defense signaling transcriptional networks. Furthermore, W-box elements for WRKY binding occur in promoters of many other WRKY transcription factors [18] indicating not simply a hierarchical rank in gene activation, but also which genes may have arisen later during evolution after initial WRKY regulatory networks were established.

4. Function

Over the last two decades great effort has been invested in characterizing WRKY transcription factors. The results show that WRKY transcription factors function in a diverse array of plant response, both to internal and external cues.

4.1. Plant Development

Studies have demonstrated the function of WRKY transcription factors in plant development. Successful male gametogenesis and tolerance to interploidy crosses both require WRKY transcription factors.[19] Embryo and root development also require WRKY transcription factors.[20] WRKYs also contribute to determination of seed size and seed coat color in Arabidopsis.[21] Furthermore, WRKY transcription factors have been shown to play key roles in regulation of developmentally programmed leaf senescence.[22]

4.2. Abiotic and Biotic Stresses

One of the most notorious roles of the WRKY transcription factor family is the regulation of plant stress tolerance. WRKYs participate in nearly every aspect of plant defense to abiotic and biotic stressors. WRKYs are known to regulate cold,[23] drought,[24] flooding,[25] heat,[26] heavy metal toxicity,[27] low humidity,[28] osmotic,[29] oxidative,[30] salt [31] and UV [32] stresses. Likewise, WRKY transcription factors play an essential role in plant tolerance to biotic stresses, protecting against innumerable viruses,[33] bacterial [34] and fungal [35] pathogens, as well as insect herbivory.[36] Plants are believed to perceive pathogens via pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP) triggered immunity and effector-triggered immunity. WRKY transcription factors participate in regulating responses to pathogens by targeting PAMP [37] and effector [38] triggered immunity.

4.3. Hormone Signaling

WRKY transcription factors function through a variety of plant hormone signaling cascades. Over half of Arabidopsis thaliana WRKY transcription factors respond to salicylic acid treatment.[39] At least 25% of WRKY transcription factors from Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) are responsive to jasmonate.[40] Similarly, in grape (Vitis vinifera) 63%, 73%, 76%, and 81% or WRKY transcription factors are responsive to salicylic acid, ethylene, abscisic acid, and jasmonate treatment, respectively.[41] In Arabidopsis thaliana, two important WRKY transcription factors are WRKY57 and WRKY70. WRKY57 mediates crosstalk between jasmonate and auxin signaling cascades,[42] whereas WRKY70 moderates signaling between the jasmonate and salicylic acid pathways.[43] Arabidopsis thaliana WRKY23 functions downstream of auxin signaling to positively activate expression of flavonols, which function as polar auxin transport inhibitors, to negatively feedback and suppress further auxin responses.[44] Several WRKY transcription factors also respond to gibberellin treatment.[45]

4.4. Primary and Secondary Metabolism

Due to difficulty in measuring phenotypes, less is known about the roles of WRKY transcription factors in plant metabolism.[46] The earliest reports identified WRKYs based on their ability to regulate β-amylase, a gene involved in catabolism of starch into sugars.[47] Since then, WRKY transcription factors have also been shown to regulate phosphate acquisition[48] and tolerance to arsenic.[49] Additionally, WRKYs are needed for proper expression of lignin biosynthetic pathway genes, which form products necessary for cell wall and xylem formation.[50] Analysis of WRKY transcription factors from numerous plant species indicates the importance of the family in regulating secondary metabolism.[51] WRKY transcription factors also play a role in regulating pathways for the biosynthesis of pharmaceutically valuable plant-specialized metabolites.[52] Efforts to use WRKY transcription factors to improve production of the valuable anti-malarial drug artemisinin have been successful.[53]

5. Mode of Action

A long-standing question of in the field of transcriptional regulation is how large families of regulators binding a consensus DNA sequences dictate expression of different target genes. The WRKY transcription factor family has long exemplified this problem. Plant species contain numerous WRKY transcription factors which predominantly recognize a conserved cis-element. Only recently has it begun to be revealed how different WRKY transcription factors regulate unique sets of target genes.

5.1. Variation in Cis-element Recognition

Early work indicated that the WRKY family could bind W-box (T/A)TGAC(T/A).[54] Later, a barley (Hordeum vulgare) WRKY transcription factor, SUSIBA2, was found to bind the Sugar Response Element (TAAAGATTACTAATAGGAA), illustrating some diversity exists in DNA sequence which WRKYs could recognize.[55] Since then, WRKYs have been found to bind a more generic GAC core cis-element with flanking sequences dictating DNA-protein interactions.[56] On the protein side differences in the consensus motif and downstream arginine or lysine residues dictate the exact flanking sequence recognized.[57] Additionally, contrary to early reports, both WRKY domains of group I family members can bind DNA.[58] Implications of these results are still being resolved.

5.2. Protein-Protein Interactions

One mechanism for determining WRKY binding activity is by protein-protein interactions. WRKY transcription factors have been found to interact with a variety of proteins, some of which occur by a group specific manner. Recent evidence suggests that VQ protein family is an important regulator of group I and group IIc WRKY transcription factors.[59] VQ proteins appear to bind the WRKY domain, thus inhibiting protein-DNA interactions. At least one WRKY transcription factor, Arabidopsis WRKY57, interacts with jasmonate ZIM-domain (JAZ) and auxin/indole acetic acid (AUX/IAA) repressor of the jasmonate and auxin signaling cascade, respectively, indicating a point of crosstalk between these phytohormones.[60] Other WRKYs interact with histone deacetylases.[61] Group IIa WRKY factors form homodimers and heterodimers within the subgroup and with other group II subgroups.[62] Group IId WRKY transcription factors typically possess a domain allowing interaction with calcium bound calmodulin.[63]

5.3. Phosphorylation

Protein phosphorylation is a common method to regulate protein activity and WRKY transcription factors are no exception. WRKY gene involved in plant defense,[64] hormone signaling,[65] and secondary metabolism [66] are regulated by phosphorylation via mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades. Additionally, a MAPK can phosphorylate a VQ protein, freeing the WRKY transcription factor for target gene activation.[67] While kinases phosphorylating WRKY transcription factors are known, phosphatases removing phosphate groups have yet to be identified.

5.4. Proteasomeal Degradation

Protein degradation via the proteasome is a common feature in plant regulatory networks to limit the duration of activation or repression by transcription factors. WRKY transcription factors have also been found to be regulated by proteasomal degradation mechanisms. In Chinese grapevine (Vitis pseudoreticulata) ERYSIPHE NECATOR-INDUCED RING FINGER PROTEIN1 targets WRKY11 for degradation leading to enhanced powdery mildew resistance.[68] In rice, WRKY45 is degraded by the proteasome although the E3 ubiquitin ligase responsible remains unknown [69].

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