Indexed on: 05 Jun '12Published on: 05 Jun '12Published in: PloS one
Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie plant responses to drought stress is challenging due to the complex interplay of numerous different genes. Here, we used network-based gene clustering to uncover the relationships between drought-responsive genes from large microarray datasets. We identified 2,607 rice genes that showed significant changes in gene expression under drought stress; 1,392 genes were highly intercorrelated to form 15 gene modules. These drought-responsive gene modules are biologically plausible, with enrichments for genes in common functional categories, stress response changes, tissue-specific expression and transcription factor binding sites. We observed that a gene module (referred to as module 4) consisting of 134 genes was significantly associated with drought response in both drought-tolerant and drought-sensitive rice varieties. This module is enriched for genes involved in controlling the response of the plant to water and embryonic development, including a heat shock transcription factor as the key regulator in the expression of ABRE-containing genes. These results suggest that module 4 is highly conserved in the ABA-mediated drought response pathway in different rice varieties. Moreover, our study showed that many hub genes clustered in rice chromosomes had significant associations with QTLs for drought stress tolerance. The relationship between hub gene clusters and drought tolerance QTLs may provide a key to understand the genetic basis of drought tolerance in rice.