Spatial and temporal control of transcription of the soybean beta-conglycinin alpha subunit gene is conferred by its proximal promoter region and accounts for the unequal distribution of the protein during embryogenesis.
Differentiation into specific embryo cell types correlates with the processes that lead to the accumulation of seed storage proteins in plants. The alpha subunit of beta-conglycinin, a major component of seed storage proteins in soybean, accumulates at a higher level in cotyledons than in the embryonic axis in developing embryos. To understand the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, we characterized the upstream region of the alpha subunit gene in terms of transcriptional control using transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana plants carrying reporter gene constructs comprising the 1357-bp upstream sequence of the alpha subunit gene and the beta-glucuronidase (GUS) gene. Analysis of the time-course-dependent pattern of GUS expression revealed that the expression was first confined to the cotyledons and occurred later in the entire embryo during embryogenesis. The level of GUS expression was higher in cotyledons than in the embryonic axis throughout the period of its expression, coincident with the distribution of the alpha subunit protein in soybean embryos. By testing progressively shorter promoter fragments, the cis-acting elements responsible for transcriptional activation in the cotyledons and the embryonic axis were both localized to the region spanning -245 to -161 relative to the transcription start site. It is also concluded that the upstream region up to -245 is sufficient to control the spatial and temporal pattern of transcription, while further upstream regions influence transcription rate without affecting the transcriptional pattern. Overall, these results indicate that the unequal distribution of alpha subunit protein within the embryos is established primarily as a consequence of differential transcriptional activation controlled by a short proximal promoter region of the gene in different embryonic tissues.
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