Low-temperature stress induces the expression of a variety of genes in plants. However, the signal transduction pathway(s) that activates gene expression under cold stress is poorly understood. Mutants defective in cold signaling should facilitate molecular analysis of plant responses to low temperature and eventually lead to the identification and cloning of a cold stress receptor(s) and intracellular signaling components. In this study, we characterize a plant mutant affected in its response to low temperatures. The Arabidopsis hos1-1 mutation identified by luciferase imaging causes superinduction of cold-responsive genes, such as RD29A , COR47 , COR15A , KIN1 , and ADH. Although these genes are also induced by abscisic acid, high salt, or polyethylene glycol in addition to cold, the hos1-1 mutation only enhances their expression under cold stress. Genetic analysis revealed that hos1-1 is a single recessive mutation in a nuclear gene. Our studies using the firefly luciferase reporter gene under the control of the cold-responsive RD29A promoter have indicated that cold-responsive genes can be induced by temperatures as high as 19°C in hos1-1 plants. In contrast, wild-type plants do not express the luciferase reporter at 10°C or higher. Compared with the wild type, hos1-1 plants are less cold hardy. Nonetheless, after 2 days of cold acclimation, hos1-1 plants acquired the same degree of freezing tolerance as did the wild type. The hos1-1 plants flowered earlier than did the wild-type plants and appeared constitutively vernalized. Taken together, our findings show that the HOS1 locus is an important negative regulator of cold signal transduction in plant cells and that it plays critical roles in controlling gene expression under cold stress, freezing tolerance, and flowering time.
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