Programmed cell death in Arabidopsis thaliana
Programmed Cell Death (PCD) describes an orderly cellular breakdown that occurs in both plants and animals throughout development and in response to biotic and abiotic stresses. The molecular machinery that functions in the induction and execution of animal PCD has been characterised in great detail. Conversely, few genes and proteins involved in plant PCD have been identified. While certain features of animal PCD may be conserved, the induction and execution of plant PCD is also likely to involve novel proteins and mechanisms. The aim of the work presented in this thesis was to investigate experimental approaches for studying plant PCD and to gain an understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved. To this end, an Arabidopsis thaliana cell suspension system was developed in which PCD could be induced by both a heat treatment (55°C, 10 min) and senescence (13 to 14 days-old). This system allowed for the molecular responses related to programmed cell death to be distinguished from those that were a specific response to the inducing stimulus. The Arabidopsis cell suspension system was utilised for an analysis of transcriptomic and proteomic changes that occur following the induction of PCD. A custom cDNA microarray analysis of ~100 putative cell death-related genes was used to measure the abundance of transcripts of these genes during PCD, and this work was extended to a whole-genome transcriptomic analysis of PCD. A number of candidate genes that may play a role in plant PCD were identified. These included those encoding antioxidant enzymes, cytosolic heat shock proteins, the mitochondrial adenine nucleotide translocase, ion transporters, a two-component response regulator (ARR4), several pathogenesis-related proteins, phospholipases and proteases, extracellular glycoproteins and enzymes (including a subtilisin-like protease, chitinases, and glucanases), and transcriptional regulators such as a homeobox leucine zipper and NAC-domain proteins. The induction and execution of plant PCD is also likely to involve mechanisms that are not transcriptionally regulated. A proteomic analysis of changes in the total cellular protein profile during heat- and senescence-induced PCD was therefore used to identify 12 proteins that are modulated in both systems and may play a PCD-specific role. These included the mitochondrial voltage-dependent anion channel (Athsr2), catalase, mitochondrial superoxide dismutase, an extracellular glycoprotein, and aconitase. Selected genes and proteins identified in the transcriptomic and proteomic analyses were further investigated in an attempt to define their role in plant PCD. Since PCD is difficult to quantitatively analyse at the whole-plant level, initially a strategy of transient expression of genes of interest in Arabidopsis protoplasts was adopted. However, it proved to be technically difficult to accurately quantify the number of dead cells in this system. As an alternative, Arabidopsis T-DNA insertional mutants within genes of interest were investigated for PCD-related phenotypes. Mutants in Senescence-Related Gene 3, the mitochondrial voltage-dependent anion channel (Athsr2), and cytosolic Heat shock protein 70-3 were isolated. The mutant lines were not visibly affected in their development, formation of xylem, onset and progression of senescence, or responses to abiotic and biotic stresses. This indicated that these genes are either not involved in the PCD pathway or that their functional role can be fulfilled by other gene products.