Transgene integration in aspen: structures of integration sites and mechanism of T-DNA integration


For correspondence (fax: +49 4102696200; email:


To obtain insight into the mechanism of transferred DNA (T-DNA) integration in a long-lived tree system, we analysed 30 transgenic aspen lines. In total, 27 right T-DNA/plant junctions, 20 left T-DNA/plant junctions, and 10 target insertions from control plants were obtained. At the right end, the T-DNA was conserved up to the cleavage site in 18 transgenic lines (67%), and the right border repeat was deleted in nine junctions. Nucleotides from the left border repeat were present in 19 transgenic lines out of 20 cases analysed. However, only four (20%) of the left border ends were conserved to the processing end, indicating that the T-DNA left and right ends are treated mechanistically differently during the T-DNA integration process. Comparison of the genomic target sites prior to integration to the T-DNA revealed that the T-DNA inserted into the plant genome without any notable deletion of genomic sequence in three out of 10 transgenic lines analysed. However, deletions of DNA ranging in length from a few nucleotides to more than 500 bp were observed in other transgenic lines. Filler DNAs of up to 235 bp were observed on left and/or right junctions of six transgenic lines, which in most cases originated from the nearby host genomic sequence or from the T-DNA. Short sequence similarities between recombining strands near break points, in particular for the left T-DNA end, were observed in most of the lines analysed. These results confirm the well-accepted T-DNA integration model based on single-stranded annealing followed by ligation of the right border which is preserved by the VirD2 protein. However, a second category of T-DNA integration was also identified in nine transgenic lines, in which the right border of the T-DNA was partly truncated. Such integration events are described via a model for the repair of genomic double-strand breaks in somatic plant cells based on synthesis-dependent strand-annealing. This report in a long-lived tree system provides major insight into the mechanism of transgene integration.