How Two Plant Proteins Control the Production of Medicinal Compounds

Greg Howard
14th May, 2024

How Two Plant Proteins Control the Production of Medicinal Compounds

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • At Northwest A&F University, researchers found that a protein, SmMYC2, boosts medicinal compound production in red sage
  • SmMYC2 partners with another protein, SmMYB36, to significantly increase these beneficial compounds
  • The plant hormone jasmonic acid controls this process by removing repressors that inhibit SmMYC2's activity
In the world of plant biology, researchers have been unraveling the complex mechanisms that plants use to defend themselves and thrive in their environment. One key player in this process is a hormone called jasmonic acid (JA), which orchestrates a variety of plant responses to stress. At Northwest A&F University, a recent study[1] has shed new light on how JA influences the production of tanshinones, compounds with significant medicinal properties, in the plant Salvia miltiorrhiza, commonly known as red sage. Tanshinones are diterpenes known for their role in treating heart and blood vessel conditions. Their biosynthesis in plants has been linked to the JA signaling pathway, a communication route within plant cells that responds to external stimuli such as herbivore attacks or pathogen invasions[2][3]. Understanding how this pathway influences tanshinone production could lead to advances in medicinal plant cultivation and drug production. The study from Northwest A&F University has identified a new piece of the puzzle: a protein called SmMYC2. Proteins like SmMYC2 are transcription factors, which means they help turn specific genes on or off. In this case, SmMYC2 can activate genes involved in tanshinone synthesis. It does so by binding to the promoters of these genes, regions of DNA that act like switches controlling the activity of the genes. But SmMYC2 doesn't work alone. It interacts with another protein, SmMYB36, forming a complex that greatly increases the production of tanshinones. This partnership is a fine example of how multiple components within a cell can come together to regulate important processes like compound synthesis. However, the study also reveals that this process is under tight regulation by the JA signaling pathway. Proteins called JAZ (Jasmonate ZIM-domain) are known to be key repressors in this pathway, acting as brakes to prevent overactivation[2][3]. The researchers found three such repressors—SmJAZ3, SmJAZ4, and SmJAZ8—that can bind to SmMYC2, preventing it from activating tanshinone synthesis. The plant hormone methyl jasmonate (MeJA), a derivative of JA, can remove these repressors. It does so by signaling for their destruction, freeing SmMYC2 to do its job. Interestingly, SmJAZ8 is resistant to this degradation due to a small difference in its structure, highlighting the complexity of the plant's internal regulation. This discovery builds upon previous studies that have explored the role of WRKY transcription factors in tanshinone production[4][5]. While those studies focused on individual WRKY factors, the current research expands our understanding by highlighting the cooperative interaction between different types of transcription factors and how they are modulated by the JA pathway. The implications of these findings are significant. By manipulating the levels of SmMYC2, SmMYB36, and the JAZ repressors, it may be possible to enhance the production of tanshinones in red sage. This could lead to more efficient production of these valuable compounds for use in medicine. The study not only provides a clearer picture of the intricate web of interactions that govern tanshinone biosynthesis but also opens the door to potential biotechnological applications. By understanding these regulatory networks, scientists can develop new strategies to boost the production of medicinal compounds in plants, which is a promising step towards meeting the growing demand for natural health products.

BiotechBiochemPlant Science


Main Study

1) The SmMYC2-SmMYB36 complex is involved in methyl jasmonate-mediated tanshinones biosynthesis in Salvia miltiorrhiza.

Published 11th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Jasmonate passes muster: a receptor and targets for the defense hormone.

3) Plant oxylipins: COI1/JAZs/MYC2 as the core jasmonic acid-signalling module.

4) Transcription Factor SmWRKY1 Positively Promotes the Biosynthesis of Tanshinones in Salvia miltiorrhiza.

5) Tanshinone production could be increased by the expression of SmWRKY2 in Salvia miltiorrhiza hairy roots.

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