The senescence process of plants is important for the completion of their life cycle, particularly for crop plants, it is essential for efficient nutrient remobilization during seed filling. It is a highly regulated process, and in order to address the regulatory aspect, the role of genes in the NAC transcription factor family during senescence of barley flag leaves was studied. Several members of the NAC transcription factor gene family were up-regulated during senescence in a microarray experiment, together with a large range of senescence-associated genes, reflecting the coordinated activation of degradation processes in senescing barley leaf tissues. This picture was confirmed in a detailed quantitative reverse transcription–PCR (qRT–PCR) experiment, which also showed distinct gene expression patterns for different members of the NAC gene family, suggesting a group of ~15 out of the 47 studied NAC genes to be important for signalling processes and for the execution of degradation processes during leaf senescence in barley. Seven models for DNA-binding motifs for NAC transcription factors were designed based on published motifs, and available promoter sequences of barley genes were screened for the motifs. Genes up-regulated during senescence showed a significant over-representation of the motifs, suggesting regulation by the NAC transcription factors. Furthermore, co-regulation studies showed that genes possessing the motifs in the promoter in general were highly co-expressed with members of the NAC gene family. In conclusion, a list of up to 15 NAC genes from barley that are strong candidates for being regulatory factors of importance for senescence and biotic stress-related traits affecting the productivity of cereal crop plants has been generated. Furthermore, a list of 71 senescence-associated genes that are potential target genes for these NAC transcription factors is presented.
Journal of Experimental Botany, 2014, Vol 65, Issue 14, p. 4009-4022