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Keywords:

  • abscisic acid;
  • WRKY transcription factor;
  • seed germination;
  • drought;
  • abiotic stress

Summary

WRKY transcription factors (TFs) are key regulators of many plant processes, including the responses to biotic and abiotic stresses, senescence, seed dormancy and seed germination. For over 15 years, limited evidence has been available suggesting that WRKY TFs may play roles in regulating plant responses to the phytohormone abscisic acid (ABA), notably some WRKY TFs are ABA-inducible repressors of seed germination. However, the roles of WRKY TFs in other aspects of ABA signalling, and the mechanisms involved, have remained unclear. Recent significant progress in ABA research has now placed specific WRKY TFs firmly in ABA-responsive signalling pathways, where they act at multiple levels. In Arabidopsis, WRKY TFs appear to act downstream of at least two ABA receptors: the cytoplasmic PYR/PYL/RCAR-protein phosphatase 2C-ABA complex and the chloroplast envelope–located ABAR–ABA complex. In vivo and in vitro promoter-binding studies show that the target genes for WRKY TFs that are involved in ABA signalling include well-known ABA-responsive genes such as ABF2, ABF4, ABI4, ABI5, MYB2, DREB1a, DREB2a and RAB18. Additional well-characterized stress-inducible genes such as RD29A and COR47 are also found in signalling pathways downstream of WRKY TFs. These new insights also reveal that some WRKY TFs are positive regulators of ABA-mediated stomatal closure and hence drought responses. Conversely, many WRKY TFs are negative regulators of seed germination, and controlling seed germination appears a common function of a subset of WRKY TFs in flowering plants. Taken together, these new data demonstrate that WRKY TFs are key nodes in ABA-responsive signalling networks.