Natural rubber is synthesized in specialized articulated cells (laticifers) located in the inner liber of Hevea brasiliensis . Upon bark tapping, the laticifer cytoplasm (latex) is expelled due to liber tissue turgor pressure. In mature virgin (untapped) trees, short-term kinetic studies confirmed that ethylene, the rubber yield stimulant used worldwide, increased latex yield, with a concomitant decrease in latex total solid content, probably through water influx in the laticifers. As the mature laticifers are devoid of plasmodesmata, the rapid water exchanges with surrounding liber cells probably occur via the aquaporin pathway. Two full-length aquaporin cDNAs ( HbPIP2;1 and HbTIP1;1 , for plasma membrane intrinsic protein and tonoplast intrinsic protein, respectively) were cloned and characterized. The higher efficiency of HbPIP2;1 than HbTIP1;1 in increasing plasmalemma water conductance was verified in Xenopus laevis oocytes. HbPIP2;1 was insensitive to HgCl 2 . In situ hybridization demonstrated that HbPIP2;1 was expressed in all liber tissues in the young stem, including the laticifers. HbPIP2;1 was up-regulated in both liber tissues and laticifers, whereas HbTIP1;1 was down-regulated in liber tissues but up-regulated in laticifers in response to bark Ethrel treatment. Ethylene-induced HbPIP2;1 up-regulation was confirmed by western-blot analysis. The promoter sequences of both genes were cloned and found to harbor, among many others, ethylene-responsive and other chemical-responsive (auxin, copper, and sulfur) elements known to increase latex yield. Increase in latex yield in response to ethylene was emphasized to be linked with water circulation between the laticifers and their surrounding tissues as well as with the probable maintenance of liber tissue turgor, which together favor prolongation of latex flow.
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