Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Ling Yuan


Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) is the exclusive source of an array of terpenoid indole alkaloids (TIAs) that are used in the treatments of hypertension and certain types of cancer. TIA biosynthesis is under stringent spatiotemporal control and is induced by jasmonate (JA) and fungal elicitors. Tryptamine, derived from the indole branch, and secologanin from the iridoid branch are condensed to form the first TIA, strictosidine. Biosynthesis of TIA is regulated at the transcriptional level and several transcription factors (TFs) regulating the expression of genes encoding key enzymes in the pathway have been isolated and characterized. The JA-responsive APETALA2/ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR (AP2/ERF), ORCA3, and the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) factor, CrMYC2, are the key activators of the TIA biosynthesis. Recently, two other TFs, the bHLH IRIDOID SYNTHESIS 1 (BIS1) and BIS2 were also identified as regulators of TIA pathway. Analysis of C. roseus genome sequence has revealed that ORCA3 forms a physical cluster with two uncharacterized AP2/ERFs, ORCA4 and ORCA5. In plants, physically linked clusters of TFs are less characterized. Moreover, the regulation of TF clusters is relatively unexplored. My research uncovered that the ORCA gene cluster is differentially regulated. ORCA4 and ORCA5, while functionally overlapping with ORCA3, regulate an additional set of TIA pathway genes. ORCA4 or ORCA5 overexpression has resulted in significant increase of TIA accumulation in C. roseus hairy roots. In addition, ORCA5 directly regulates the expression of ORCA4 and indirectly regulates ORCA3, likely via unknown factor(s). Interestingly, ORCA5 also activates the expression of ZCT3, a negative regulator of the TIA pathway. In addition CrMYC2 is capable of activating ORCA3 and co-regulating pathway genes concomitantly with ORCA3.

Several lines of evidence suggest that, in addition to the transcriptional control, biosynthesis of TIAs is also controlled at the posttranslational level, such as protein phosphorylation. Available literature indicates that a mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade is involved in this process. Analysis of C. roseus MAP kinome, identified two independent MAPK cascades regulating the indole and iridoid branches of the TIA pathway. We showed that the ORCA cluster and CrMYC2 act downstream of a MAP kinase cascade consisting of CrMAPKK1, CrMAPK3 and CrMAPK6.

Overexpression of CrMAPKK1 in C. roseus hairy roots upregulates TIA pathway genes expressions and boosts TIA accumulation. The other cascade, consisting of CrMAPKK6 and CrMAPK13, mostly regulates the iridoid branch of the TIA pathway. Overexpression of CrMAPK13 in C. roseus hairy roots significantly upregulates iridoid pathway genes and boosts tabersonine accumulation. Moreover, we recently identified the third MAPK cascade, consisting of CrMAPKK1 and CrMAPK20, that negatively regulates the indole branch of the TIA pathway. Overexpression of CrMAPK20 in C. roseus hairy roots represses the genes regulated by CrMYC2-ORCAs and reduces catharanthine accumulation. These findings significantly advance our understanding of transcriptional and post-translational regulatory mechanisms that govern TIA biosynthesis in C. roseus.

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