Frontiers in Plant Science (Apr 2018)

Integrative Transcriptomic Analysis Uncovers Novel Gene Modules That Underlie the Sulfate Response in Arabidopsis thaliana

  • Carlos Henríquez-Valencia,
  • Anita Arenas-M,
  • Joaquín Medina,
  • Javier Canales,
  • Javier Canales

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9


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Sulfur is an essential nutrient for plant growth and development. Sulfur is a constituent of proteins, the plasma membrane and cell walls, among other important cellular components. To obtain new insights into the gene regulatory networks underlying the sulfate response, we performed an integrative meta-analysis of transcriptomic data from five different sulfate experiments available in public databases. This bioinformatic approach allowed us to identify a robust set of genes whose expression depends only on sulfate availability, indicating that those genes play an important role in the sulfate response. In relation to sulfate metabolism, the biological function of approximately 45% of these genes is currently unknown. Moreover, we found several consistent Gene Ontology terms related to biological processes that have not been extensively studied in the context of the sulfate response; these processes include cell wall organization, carbohydrate metabolism, nitrogen compound transport, and the regulation of proteolysis. Gene co-expression network analyses revealed relationships between the sulfate-responsive genes that were distributed among seven function-specific co-expression modules. The most connected genes in the sulfate co-expression network belong to a module related to the carbon response, suggesting that this biological function plays an important role in the control of the sulfate response. Temporal analyses of the network suggest that sulfate starvation generates a biphasic response, which involves that major changes in gene expression occur during both the early and late responses. Network analyses predicted that the sulfate response is regulated by a limited number of transcription factors, including MYBs, bZIPs, and NF-YAs. In conclusion, our analysis identified new candidate genes and provided new hypotheses to advance our understanding of the transcriptional regulation of sulfate metabolism in plants.