Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


TOPLESS plants provide clues to human molecular interactions


Scientists at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) have revealed an important molecular mechanism in plants that has significant similarities to certain signaling mechanisms in humans, which are closely linked to early embryonic development and to diseases such as cancer.

In plants as in animals and humans, intricate molecular networks regulate key biological functions, such as development and stress responses. The system can be likened to a massive switchboard--when the wrong switches are flipped, genes can be inappropriately turned on or off, leading to the onset of diseases.

The tetrameric TOPLESS complex with the EAR motif peptides bound at its repressor-peptide binding grooves. The repressor peptides are shown as a ball presentation.

Credit: Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., Van Andel Research Institute

Now, VARI scientists have unraveled how an important plant protein, known as TOPLESS, interacts with other molecules responsible for turning genes off. The findings in plants provide a general model across species for this type of gene silencing, which is linked to several vital biological functions in humans. The discovery was published today in Science Advances.

"This is really a fundamental discovery--our structure shows the corepressor TOPLESS interacting with key repressor motifs, which constitutes a major component of gene silencing in plants," said Van Andel Research Institute's Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., one of the study's corresponding authors. "Understanding this interaction in plants gives us unique insight into similar pathways in humans that involve these proteins, which are notoriously tough to investigate."

Using a method called X-ray crystallography, the team determined the three- dimensional structure of TOPLESS, both on its own and when linked with other molecules responsible for turning genes off, thereby regulating gene expression. Although these interacting molecules were chosen from different signaling pathways in plants, they all linked up with TOPLESS in the same manner

"This structure will allow us to take a more targeted approach to investigating TOPLESS's counterparts in humans and significantly expands our knowledge base," said VARI's H. Eric Xu, Ph.D., who also is a corresponding author. "We're extremely excited to continue this work to better understand these proteins and how they interact with other molecules in health and disease states."

The new paper is the third in a trio of publications that unveil key components of fundamental molecular processes. Although the new study provides further insight into human molecular pathways, the work also directly describes how components of the molecular switchboard in plants interact to regulate responses to a multitude of stressors, including temperature fluctuations. The new findings follow an earlier Nature paper, which was included in the top ten list of scientific breakthroughs of 2009 by Science magazine, and an earlier Science paper, both of which describe how plants respond to drought and temperature stress. Taken together, the papers not only have implications for developing hardier plants but also for determining molecular structures for components of entire pathways.

Authors include Jiyuan Ke, Honglei Ma, and Xin Gu of VARI and VARI-Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica; Jiayang Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Joseph S. Brunzelle of Northwestern University; and Adam Thelen, now at Michigan State University.


Additional background information on TOPLESS and gene regulation:

Gene expression is regulated by both activators and repressors. Although gene repression is thought to be equally important as gene activation for this regulation, relatively little is known about the mechanisms of gene repressors and co-repressors.

TOPLESS functions as a co-repressor and interacts with repressors containing ethylene-responsive element binding factor-associated amphiphilic repression (EAR) motifs. EAR motifs are the most common form of transcriptional repression motifs found in plants and are thought to facilitate stable epigenetic regulation of gene expression via recruitment of chromatin modifiers.

TOPLESS plays important roles in plant development; its name stems from the fact that mutations in TOPLESS can give rise to seedlings in which the shoot is transformed into a second root, hence "topless" seedlings.

In humans, similar proteins also are altered in many types of tumors, and control embryonic development and the development of neurons.


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premier research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 270 scientists, educators and staff. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI's research division, is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson's and other diseases and translating those findings into effective therapies. The Institute's scientists work in on-site laboratories and participate in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Learn more about Van Andel Institute or donate by visiting 100% To Research, Discovery & Hope®

Media Contact

Beth Hinshaw Hall

Beth Hinshaw Hall | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Andel biological functions diseases genes humans molecular interactions motifs pathways proteins

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Advanced analysis of brain structure shape may track progression to Alzheimer's disease

26.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

3-D-printed structures shrink when heated

26.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>