Stress regulated members of the plant organic cation transporter family are localized to the vacuolar membrane
© Küfner and Koch; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2008
Received: 16 May 2008
Accepted: 11 July 2008
Published: 11 July 2008
In Arabidopsis six genes group into the gene family of the organic cation transporters (OCTs). In animals the members of the OCT-family are mostly characterized as polyspecific transporters involved in the homeostasis of solutes, the transport of monoamine neurotransmitters and the transport of choline and carnitine. In plants little is known about function, localisation and regulation of this gene family. Only one protein has been characterized as a carnitine transporter at the plasma membrane so far.
We localized the five uncharacterized members of the Arabidopsis OCT family, designated OCT2-OCT6, via GFP fusions and protoplast transformation to the tonoplast. Expression analysis with RNA Gel Blots showed a distinct, organ-specific expression pattern of the individual genes. With reporter gene fusion of four members we analyzed the tissue specific distribution of OCT2, 3, 4, and 6. In experiments with salt, drought and cold stress, we could show that AtOCT4, 5 and 6 are up-regulated during drought stress, AtOCT3 and 5 during cold stress and AtOCT 5 and 6 during salt stress treatments.
Localisation of the proteins at the tonoplast and regulation of the gene expression under stress conditions suggests a specific role for the transporters in plant adaptation to environmental stress.
Controlled transport processes across membranes of different compartments and between organs are essential for plant nutrient and ion distribution. Changing environmental conditions, like altered nutrient availability, water supply and temperature, require adequate responses by the plant in primary and secondary metabolism. The plant vacuole is a central compartment for this complex process of adaptation to altered environmental conditions. The transport of ions and solutes across the tonoplast is a rapid way to adjust and maintain the required concentrations in the cytoplasm and to avoid the accumulation of toxic substances or ion concentrations [1–3]. For such transport processes several substrate specific membrane proteins have been identified at the tonoplast. These are examples for transporters for water and organic solutes, like urea, sugars and sugar alcohols, as well as transporters for monovalent and divalent inorganic cations (summarized in ). But, compared to the high number and variation of primary and secondary metabolites found in the vacuole, the number of transporters identified at the tonoplast is relatively low.
The SLC22 family and plant OCTs
The human solute carrier family 22, (SLC 22), is a gene family that contains organic cation transporters (OCTs), zwitterions/cation transporters (OCTNs) and organic anion transporters (OATs,) with 11–12 transmembrane domains. They can function as uniporters (OCTs), cotransporters (OCTN2) or anion exchangers (for review see ). In most cases these transporters are polyspecific and shuttle various substrates e.g. monoamine neurotransmitters, choline, uric acid and prostaglandine, but also α-ketoglutarate and carnitine. In plants, the first protein related to the SLC22 family was identified in Phaseolus vulgaris, PvOCT1 . While the substrate of PvOCT1 is unclear, it was assumed that it plays a role in stress adaption, as its expression is up-regulated after drought stress. However, the Arabidopsis homolog of PvOCT1, AtOCT1, has been characterized functionally as a carnitine transporter at the plasma membrane . No information about the role, the subcellular localization or the gene regulation of the other five members in Arabidopsis is available up to now. In a recent proteomic approach of isolated vacuoles from cauliflower, a homolog to the Arabidopsis protein At1g16390 (AtOCT3) was found. The localization of the protein at the tonoplast was verified via transient expression of a GFP fusion in protoplasts 
Subcellular localization of the AtOCTs
Organ and tissue specific expression of the AtOCTs
RNA-gel blot analysis showed an expression of the five vacuolar AtOCTs in a distinct organ-specific manner (additional file 2: Organ specific expression AtOCT2-AtOCT6). AtOCT2 is in genera lweakly expressed. AtOCT3 mRNA was only present in siliques, but here in a higher amount. Expression of AtOCT4 mRNA was strongest in roots and also showed a very faint background expression in the other organs. AtOCT5 expression is strongest in sink leaves and source leaves. Together with AtOCT4, AtOCT6 was the second gene expressed predominantly in roots and weakly in the stem.
To analyze the tissue specific expression of the AtOCTs, promoter GUS fusions for AtOCT2,3,4 and 6 were constructed and transformed in Arabidopsis. PAtOCT2-GUS-expression in flowers was restricted to pollen grains and the stigma (additional file 3: GUS activitiy under control of the AtOCT2 Promoter). GUS activity was detected in the vascular tissue of older siliques and also in the envelope of young siliques (C, D). Staining of the whole rosette revealed a leaf age-dependent expression pattern (F). In young leaves the whole leaf blade except the vasculature was stained (H,I,J). Cross sections showed that the staining is located in the upper epidermis and the cell layer below (I). At the inner part of young leaves the staining is in the parenchyma cells below the vasculature (J). In mature leaves PAtOCT2-GUS expression was only detectable in the phloem (G,K). In roots expression located to the two vascular strands, the initiation site of lateral roots and at the root tip (L,M,N).
Stress specific induced expression of AtOCTs
The five vacuolar membrane proteins of the AtOCT family show a distinct individual response to drought, cold and salt stress. The only plasmamembrane member of this gene family does not respond to these stresses. Discrepancies to already published expression data , where drought induction of AtOCTs is weak derive most likely from the different experimental procedure. Here we used permanent drought stress whereas Kilian et al. used a 15 minutes drought stress and then reapplied water . The substrate specificity of the animal OCTs is not very high, which might also be the case for the plant vacuolar OCTs. Polyspecificity would allow the plants to react rapidly and efficiently with the up regulation of transporters as an answer to the multiple compounds that accumulate under various stress conditions [12–14]. Either the AtOCTs could detoxify these compounds into the vacuole or release compatible solutes stored in the tonoplast. Expression in the phloem could indicate an enhanced content of compatible solutes in the phloem cells as a response to salt stress or water deficit as described for proline and sugar alcohols [15, 16]. The potentially complex substrate spectrum might make it difficult to address the individual substrates for the proteins. Based on the tissue specific expression of the genes and on the stress induction data, a metabolic analysis of T-DNA insertion lines will help in identifying potential substrates.
Arabidopsis thaliana L. ecotype Col-0 was either grown in axenic culture on MS medium  supplemented with 2% sucrose or cultured in soil in the greenhouse. Arabidopsis plants were transformed using Agrobacterium tumefaciens pGV3101 under vacuum infiltration as described . Cold stress: Plants were grown for 3 weeks in sterile culture on MS plates (14 h light, 21°C) and then transferred to 4°C at the beginning of the light period. Samples were harvested and frozen in liquid nitrogen prior to RNA-extraction. Drought stress: Plants were grown as above and transferred from petridishes to filter paper (whatman 3 MM). For salt stress experiments plants were grown hydroponically as described before  and NaCl concentration was adjusted to 200 mM at the start of the experiments.
Total RNA was isolated from seedlings, mature leaves, stems and other organs with phenol following LiCl precipitation, separation and transfer to nylon membranes as described . Labeling with α32P-dATP was performed with Hexalabel DNA labeling Kit (MBI, Fermentas). Hybridization was performed at 65°C in 0.25 M sodium phosphate pH 7.2, 7% SDS, 1 mM EDTA and 1% BSA for 16 h using the cDNAs of AtOCTs and actin as a probe. Filters were washed twice with 2 × SSC/0.1% SDS and 0.2 × SSC/0.1% SDS for 20 min at 65°C and exposed to X-ray films
Green fluorescent Protein (GFP) fusion
The RT-PCR amplified ORFs of AtOCTs were cloned behind the CaMV 35S promoter in front to GFP5 (S65T). Restricition sites used were for AtOCT1(At1g73220), AtOCT2(At1g79360), AtOCT5(At1g79410) SacI/BamHI, for AtOCT6(At1g16370), AtOCT3(At1g16390) BamHI/BspHI and AtOCAT4 (At3g20660) KpnI/BspHI, The linker between the AtOCTs and GFP was 7–8 amino acids (WGIQGDII for AtOCT1, AtOCT2, and AtOCT5, WGAGAGV for AtOCT6 and AtOCT3 and YGAGAGVfor AtOCT4). The primers used were AtOCT1 ATG/SacI 5'-ggggagctcATGGAACCTTCAAAACAAGAAG-3', AtOCT1 BamHI 5'-cccggatccccCAAGTAATCATGATTGTTTCG-3', AtOCT2 ATG/SacI 5'-aaagagctcATGGCAGAACCAACTCAG-3', AtOCT2 BamHI 5'-cccggatccccCATGCAATGACATTATTAACG-3, AtOCT3 ATG/BamHI 5'-tttggatccATGGCCGACTCGACTCG-3, AtOCT3 BspHI 5'-cctcatgactcctgcgccagcacccCAACCAATAAATTGTCTTTTTGC-3', AtOCT4 ATG/KpnI 5'-aaaaaggtaccATGGAATCTCCGGAGGATAG-3, AtOCT4 BspHI 5'-ccctcatgactcctgcgccagcaccaTAACATATTACTTCTCCTCTTTC-3, AtOCT5 ATG/SacI 5'-tttgagctcATGGCGGATTCGTTGGC-3, AOCT5 BamHI 5'-cccggatccccCAGCAACTATGGCTAGTC-3' AtOCT6 ATG/BamHI 5'-tttggatccATGGCTGATCCAATATCAG-3', AtOCT6 BspHI 5'-aaatcatgactcctgcgccagcacccCAGCAAACATGGCTGG-3',
Promoter glucuronidase (GUS) fusion
Promoter GUS construct consist of promoter including first 21–24 bases of the ORFs and were fused translationally to GUS. The fragments were cloned in pBluescript SK (-) (Stratagene, La Jolla, USA) confirmed by sequencing. Subsequently the total promoter constructs were cloned in frame to uidA (GUS) of pCB308 . The length of the fragments were: POCT2-2210 bp, POCT3-1553 bp, POCT4-900 bp, POCT5-1873 bp, POCT6-1683 bp, and the following primers with restriction sites were used.
P-GUS OCT2f BcuI 5'-gggactagtTACCTCTGCTCAGTTGG-3'
P-GUS OCT2r SmaI 5'-gggAGCGGCTGAGTTGGTTCTG-3'
P-GUS OCT3f BcuI 5'-gggactagtTTTCTTGATTCGATTTTGAGC-3'
P-GUS OCT3r SmaI 5'-gggAGAAGCGGCCGAGTCGAGTC-3'
P-GUS OCT4f BcuI 5'-gggactagtAAGCGTAAGAGGACGCTC-3'
P-GUS OCT4r SmaI 5'-gggTTTCTATCCTCCGGAGATTCC-3'
P-GUS OCT5f BamHI 5'-gggggatccGATGTATATGTGTGTAGAGAGAG-3'
P-GUS OCT5r SmaI 5'-gggGCCATGGTTGCTTACTTTGATCG-3'
P-GUS OCT6f BcuI 5'-gggactagtTTTGGAGTAAGAATTGGTTTG-3'
P-GUS OCT6r SmaI 5'-gggGGTTCTGATATTGGATCAGCC-3'
Transient transformation of the protoplasts with polyethylene glycol was performed according to the protocol of Negrutiu et al . Transient GFP expression was monitored 24 h after transformation. Vacuoles were released from protoplast by creating an osmotic shock by adding water (1:1 to the protoplast suspension) and escaping vacuoles were monitored immediately.
Histochemical localization of GUS activity
Histochemical assays for β-glucuronidase activity were performed as previously described. . Briefly, for the fresh sections, tissues were embedded in 5% low melting agarose, and agar blocks were cut (75 – 150 μm) with razor blades using a vibratome (Leica, Germany).
The authors wish thank Caterina Brancato for technical assistance in protoplast transformation, Dr. Axel Hirner for cloning advice and the crew of Lab 220.
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