Plants respond to adverse environments by initiating a series of signaling processes that often involves diverse protein kinases, including calcineurin B-like protein-interacting protein kinases (CIPKs). In this study, putative CIPK genes (OsCIPK01-OsCIPK30) in the rice (Oryza sativa) genome were surveyed for their transcriptional responses to various abiotic stresses. The results showed that 20 OsCIPK genes were differentially induced by at least one of the stresses, including drought, salinity, cold, polyethylene glycol, and abscisic acid treatment. Most of the genes induced by drought or salt stress were also induced by abscisic acid treatment but not by cold. A few CIPK genes containing none of the reported stress-responsive cis-elements in their promoter regions were also induced by multiple stresses. To prove that some of these stress-responsive OsCIPK genes are potentially useful for stress-tolerance improvement, three CIPK genes (OsCIPK03, OsCIPK12, and OsCIPK15) were overexpressed in japonica rice 'Zhonghua 11'. Transgenic plants overexpressing the transgenes OsCIPK03, OsCIPK12, and OsCIPK15 showed significantly improved tolerance to cold, drought, and salt stress, respectively. Under cold and drought stresses, OsCIPK03- and OsCIPK12-overexpressing transgenic plants accumulated significantly higher contents of proline and soluble sugars than the wild type. Putative proline synthetase and transporter genes had significantly higher expression level in the transgenic plants than in the wild type. The differentially induced expression of OsCIPK genes by different stresses and the examples of improved stress tolerance of the OsCIPK transgenic rice suggest that rice CIPK genes have diverse roles in different stress responses and some of them may possess potential usefulness in stress-tolerance improvement of rice.
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