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Role of the Agrobacterium tumefaciens VirD2 Protein in T-DNA Transfer and Integration

July 1998 , Volume 11 , Number  7
Pages  668 - 683

Kirankumar S. Mysore , 1 , 3 Burgund Bassuner , 1 Xiao-bing Deng , 1 Nune S. Darbinian , 1 Andrei Motchoulski , 1 Walt Ream , 2 and Stanton B. Gelvin 1 , 3

1Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1392, U.S.A.; 2Department of Microbiology, Oregon State University, Corvallis 97331, U.S.A.; 3Purdue Genetics Program, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1392, U.S.A.

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Accepted 3 April 1998.

VirD2 is one of the key Agrobacterium tumefaciens proteins involved in T-DNA processing and transfer. In addition to its endonuclease domain, VirD2 contains a bipartite C-terminal nuclear localization sequence (NLS) and a conserved region called ω that is important for virulence. Previous results from our laboratory indicated that the C-terminal, bipartite NLS and the ω region are not essential for nuclear uptake of T-DNA, and further suggested that the ω domain may be required for efficient integration of T-DNA into the plant genome. In this study, we took two approaches to investigate the importance of the ω domain in T-DNA integration. Using the first approach, we constructed a T-DNA binary vector containing a promoterless gusA-intron gene just inside the right T-DNA border. The expression of β-glucuronidase (GUS) activity in plant cells transformed by this T-DNA would indicate that the T-DNA integrated downstream of a plant promoter. Approximately 0.4% of the tobacco cell clusters infected by a wild-type A. tumefaciens strain harboring this vector stained blue with 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl β-d-glucuronic acid (X-gluc). However, using an ω-mutant A. tumefaciens strain harboring the same binary vector, we did not detect any blue staining. Using the second approach, we directly demonstrated that more T-DNA is integrated into high-molecular-weight plant DNA after infection of Arabidopsis thaliana cells with a wild-type A. tumefaciens strain than with a strain containing a VirD2 ω deletion/substitution. Taken together, these data indicate that the VirD2 ω domain is important for efficient T-DNA integration. To determine whether the use of the T-DNA right border is altered in those few tumors generated by A. tumefaciens strains harboring the ω mutation, we analyzed DNA extracted from these tumors. Our data indicate that the right border was used to integrate the T-DNA in a similar manner regardless of whether the VirD2 protein encoded by the inciting A. tumefaciens was wild-type or contained an ω mutation. In addition, a mutant VirD2 protein lacking the ω domain was as least as active in cleaving a T-DNA border in vitro as was the wild-type protein. Finally, we investigated the role of various amino acids of the ω and bipartite NLS domains in the targeting of a GUS-VirD2 fusion protein to the nucleus of electroporated tobacco protoplasts. Deletion of the ω domain, or mutation of the 10-amino-acid region between the two components of the bipartite NLS, had little effect upon the nuclear targeting of the GUS-VirD2 fusion protein. Mutation of both components of the NLS reduced, but did not eliminate, targeting of the fusion protein to the nucleus.

© 1998 The American Phytopathological Society