Repression of ZCT1, ZCT2 and ZCT3 affects expression of terpenoid indole alkaloid biosynthetic and regulatory genes

Chunyao Li, Susan I. Gibson

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4 Scopus citations


Terpenoid indole alkaloids (TIAs) include several valuable pharmaceuticals. As Catharanthus roseus remains the primary source of these TIA pharmaceuticals, several research groups have devoted substantial efforts to increase production of these compounds by C. roseus. Efforts to increase TIA production by overexpressing positive regulators of TIA biosynthetic genes have met with limited success. This limited success might be due to the fact that overexpression of several positive TIA regulators turns on expression of negative regulators of TIA biosynthetic genes. Consequently, a more effective approach for increasing expression of TIA biosynthetic genes might be to decrease expression of negative regulators of TIA biosynthetic genes. Towards this end, an RNAi construct was generated that expresses a hairpin RNA carrying nucleotide fragments from three negative transcriptional regulators of TIA genes, ZCT1, ZCT2 and ZCT3, under the control of a beta-estradiol inducible promoter. Transgenic C. roseus hairy root lines carrying this ZCT RNAi construct exhibit significant reductions in transcript levels of all three ZCT genes. Surprisingly, out of eight TIA biosynthetic genes analyzed, seven (CPR, LAMT, TDC, STR, 16OMT, D4H and DAT) exhibited decreased rather than increased transcript levels in response to reductions in ZCT transcript levels. The lone exception was T19H, which exhibited the expected negative correlation in transcript levels with transcript levels of all three ZCT genes. A possible explanation for the T19H expression pattern being the opposite of the expression patterns of the other TIA biosynthetic genes tested is that T19H shunts metabolites away from vindoline production whereas the products of the other genes tested shunt metabolites towards vindoline metabolism. Consequently, both increased expression of T19H and decreased expression of one or more of the other seven genes tested would be expected to have similar effects on flux through the TIA pathway. As T19H expression is lower in the ZCT RNAi hairy root lines than in the control hairy root line, the ZCTs could act directly to inhibit expression of T19H. In contrast, ZCT regulation of the other seven TIA biosynthetic genes tested is likely to occur indirectly, possibly by the ZCTs turning off expression of a negative transcriptional regulator of some TIA genes. In fact, transcript levels of a negative TIA transcriptional regulator, GBF1, exhibited a strong, and statistically significant, negative correlation with transcript levels of ZCT1, ZCT2 and ZCT3. Together, these findings suggest that the ZCTs repress expression of some TIA biosynthetic genes, but increase expression of other TIA biosynthetic genes, possibly by turning down expression of GBF1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11624
StatePublished - Jul 2 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The following grant information was disclosed by the authors: United States National Science Foundation: CBET-1064903.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the United States National Science Foundation (CBET-1064903). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright 2021 Li and Gibson.


  • Catharanthus roseus
  • GBF1
  • RNAi
  • Terpenoid indole alkaloid
  • ZCT1
  • ZCT2
  • ZCT3


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