Alternative splicing of basic chitinase gene PR3b in the low-nicotine mutants of Nicotiana tabacum L. cv. Burley 21

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Two unlinked semi-dominant loci, A (NIC1) and B (NIC2), control nicotine and related alkaloid biosynthesis in Burley tobaccos. Mutations in either or both loci (nic1 and nic2) lead to low nicotine phenotypes with altered environmental stress responses. Here we show that the transcripts derived from the pathogenesis-related (PR) protein gene PR3b are alternatively spliced to a greater extent in the nic1 and nic2 mutants of Burley 21 tobacco and the nic1nic2 double mutant. The alternative splicing results in a deletion of 65 nucleotides and introduces a premature stop codon into the coding region of PR3b that leads to a significant reduction of PR3b specific chitinase activity. Assays of PR3b splicing in F2 individuals derived from crosses between nic1 and nic2 mutants and wild-type plants showed that the splicing phenotype is controlled by the NIC1 and NIC2 loci, even though NIC1 and NIC2 are unlinked loci. Moreover, the transcriptional analyses showed that the splicing patterns of PR3b in the low-nicotine mutants were differentially regulated by jasmonate (JA) and ethylene (ET). These data suggest that the NIC1 and NIC2 loci display differential roles in regulating the alternative splicing of PR3b in Burley 21. The findings in this study have provided valuable information for extending our understanding of the broader effects of the low-nicotine mutants of Burley 21 and the mechanism by which JA and ET signalling pathways post-transcriptionally regulate the activity of PR3b protein.

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