The cellulose synthase (CesA) gene family encodes the catalytic subunits of a large protein complex responsible for the deposition of cellulose into plant cell walls. Early in vascular plant evolution, the gene family diverged into distinct members with conserved structures and functions (e.g. primary or secondary cell wall biosynthesis). Although the functions and expression domains of CesA genes have been extensively studied in plants, little is known about transcriptional regulation and promoter evolution in this gene family.
Here, comparative sequence analysis of orthologous CesA promoters from three angiosperm genera, Arabidopsis, Populus and Eucalyptus, was performed to identify putative cis-regulatory sequences. The promoter sequences of groups of Arabidopsis genes that are co-expressed with the primary or secondary cell wall-related CesA genes were also analyzed. Reporter gene analysis of newly isolated promoter regions of six E. grandis CesA genes in Arabidopsis revealed the conserved functionality of the promoter sequences. Comparative sequence analysis identified 71 conserved sequence motifs, of which 66 were significantly over-represented in either primary or secondary wall-associated promoters. The presence of conserved cis-regulatory elements in the evolutionary distant CesA promoters of Arabidopsis, Populus and Eucalyptus suggests an ancient transcriptional network regulating cellulose biosynthesis in vascular plants.