Differing biophysical properties underpin the unique signaling potentials within the plant phytochrome photoreceptor families

E. Sethe Burgie, Zachary T.K. Gannam, Katrice E. McLoughlin, Christopher D. Sherman, Alex S. Holehouse, Robert J. Stankey, Richard D. Vierstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Many aspects of photoperception by plants and microorganisms are initiated by the phytochrome (Phy) family of photoreceptors that detect light through interconversion between red light- (Pr) and far-red light-absorbing (Pfr) states. Plants synthesize a small family of Phy isoforms (PhyA to PhyE) that collectively regulate photomorphogenesis and temperature perception through redundant and unique actions. While the selective roles of these isoforms have been partially attributed to their differing abundances, expression patterns, affinities for downstream partners, and turnover rates, we show here from analysis of recombinant Arabidopsis chromoproteins that the Phy isoforms also display distinct biophysical properties. Included are a hypsochromic shift in the Pr absorption for PhyC and varying rates of Pfr to Pr thermal reversion, part of which can be attributed to the core photosensory module in each. Most strikingly, PhyB combines strong temperature dependence of thermal reversion with an order-of-magnitude faster rate to likely serve as the main physiological thermosensor, whereby thermal reversion competes with photoconversion. In addition, comparisons of Pfr occupancies for PhyA and PhyB under a range of red- and white-light fluence rates imply that low-light environments are effectively sensed by PhyA, while high-light environments, such as full sun, are effectively sensed by PhyB. Parallel analyses of the Phy isoforms from potato and maize showed that the unique features within the Arabidopsis family are conserved, thus indicating that the distinct biophysical properties among plant Phy isoforms emerged early in Phy evolution, likely to enable full interrogation of their light and temperature environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2105649118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021


  • Photochemistry
  • Photoreceptor
  • Phytochrome
  • Temperature sensing
  • Thermal reversion


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