The posttranslational addition of small ubiquitin-like modifiers (SUMOs) to other intracellular proteins has been implicated in a variety of eukaryotic functions, including modifying cytoplasmic signal transduction, nuclear import and subnuclear compartmentalization, DNA repair, and transcription regulation. For plants, in particular, both genetic analyses and the rapid accumulation of SUMO conjugates in response to various adverse environmental conditions suggest that SUMOylation plays a key role in the stress response. Through genetic analyses of various SUMO conjugation mutants, we show here that the SUMO1 and SUMO2 isoforms, in particular, and SUMOylation, in general, are essential for viability in Arabidopsis ( Arabidopsis thaliana ). Null T-DNA insertion mutants affecting the single genes encoding the SUMO-activating enzyme subunit SAE2 and the SUMO-conjugating enzyme SCE1 are embryonic lethal, with arrest occurring early in embryo development. Whereas the single genes encoding the SUMO1 and SUMO2 isoforms are not essential by themselves, double mutants missing both are also embryonic lethal. Viability can be restored by reintroduction of SUMO1 expression in the homozygous sum1-1 sum2-1 background. Various stresses, like heat shock, dramatically increase the pool of SUMO conjugates in planta. This increase involves SUMO1 and SUMO2 and is mainly driven by the SUMO protein ligase SIZ1, with most of the conjugates accumulating in the nucleus. Taken together, it appears that SIZ1-mediated conjugation of SUMO1 and SUMO2 to other intracellular proteins is essential in Arabidopsis, possibly through stress-induced modification of a potentially diverse pool of nuclear proteins.
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