Cold acclimation alters DNA methylation patterns and confers tolerance to heat and increases growth rate inBrassica rapa

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Epigenetic modifications are implicated in plant adaptations to abiotic stresses. Exposure of plants to one stress can induce resistance to other stresses, a process termed cross-adaptation, which is not well understood. In this study, we aimed to unravel the epigenetic basis of elevated heat-tolerance in cold-acclimatedBrassica rapaby conducting a genome-wide DNA methylation analysis of leaves from control (CK) and cold-acclimated (CA) plants. We found that both methylation and demethylation occurred during cold acclimation. Two significantly altered pathways, malate dehydrogenase activity and carbon fixation, and 1562 differentially methylated genes, includingBramMDH1,BraKAT2,BraSHM4, andBra4CL2, were identified in CA plants. Genetic validation and treatment ofB. rapawith 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine (Aza) suggested that promoter demethylation of four candidate genes increased their transcriptional activities. Physiological analysis suggested that elevated heat-tolerance and high growth rate were closely related to increases in organic acids and photosynthesis, respectively. Functional analyses demonstrated that the candidate geneBramMDH1(mMDH: mitochondrial malate dehydrogenase) directly enhances organic acids and photosynthesis to increase heat-tolerance and growth rate inArabidopsis. However, Aza-treatedB. rapa, which also has elevatedBramMDH1levels, did not exhibit enhanced heat-tolerance. We therefore suggest that DNA demethylation alone is not sufficient to increase heat-tolerance. This study demonstrates that altered DNA methylation contributes to cross-adaptation.

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