Transcriptional reprograming after the exposure of plants to elevated temperatures is a hallmark of stress response which is required for the manifestation of thermotolerance. Central transcription factors regulate the stress survival and recovery mechanisms and many of the core responses controlled by these factors are well described. In turn, pathways and specific genes contributing to variations in the thermotolerance capacity even among closely related plant genotypes are not well defined. A seedling-based assay was developed to directly compare the growth and transcriptome response to heat stress in four tomato genotypes with contrasting thermotolerance. The conserved and the genotype-specific alterations of mRNA abundance in response to heat stress were monitored after exposure to three different temperatures. The transcripts of the majority of genes behave similarly in all genotypes, including the majority of heat stress transcription factors and heat shock proteins, but also genes involved in photosynthesis and mitochondrial ATP production. In turn, genes involved in hormone and RNA-based regulation, such as auxin- and ethylene-related genes, or transcription factors like HsfA6b, show a differential regulation that associates with the thermotolerance pattern. Our results provide an inventory of genes likely involved in core and genotype-dependent heat stress response mechanisms with putative role in thermotolerance in tomato seedlings.
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