Leaf senescence is the final process of leaf development that involves the mobilization of nutrients from old leaves to newly growing tissues. Despite the identification of several transcription factors involved in the regulation of this process, the mechanisms underlying the progression of leaf senescence are largely unknown. Herein, we describe the proteasome-mediated regulation of class II ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR (ERF) transcriptional repressors and involvement of these factors in the progression of leaf senescence in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana). Based on previous results showing that the tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) ERF3 (NtERF3) specifically interacts with a ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme, we examined the stability of NtERF3 in vitro and confirmed its rapid degradation by plant protein extracts. Furthermore, NtERF3 accumulated in plants treated with a proteasome inhibitor. The Arabidopsis class II ERFs AtERF4 and AtERF8 were also regulated by the proteasome and increased with plant aging. Transgenic Arabidopsis plants with enhanced expression of NtERF3, AtERF4, or AtERF8 showed precocious leaf senescence. Our gene expression and chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses suggest that AtERF4 and AtERF8 targeted the EPITHIOSPECIFIER PROTEIN/EPITHIOSPECIFYING SENESCENCE REGULATOR gene and regulated the expression of many genes involved in the progression of leaf senescence. By contrast, an aterf4 aterf8 double mutant exhibited delayed leaf senescence. Our results provide insight into the important role of class II ERFs in the progression of leaf senescence.
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