BackgroundCitrus fruits are consumed freshly or as juice to directly provide various dietary flavonoids to humans. Diverse metabolites are present among Citrus genera, and many flavonoids biosynthetic genes were induced after abiotic stresses. To better understand the underlying mechanism, we designed experiments to overexpress a UDP-GLUCOSYL TRANSFERASE gene from sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) to evaluate its possible function in metabolism and response to stress.ResultsOur results demonstrated that overexpression of Cs-UGT78D3 resulted in high accumulation of proanthocyanidins in the seed coat and a dark brown color to transgenic Arabidopsis seeds. In addition, the total contents of flavonoid and anthocyanin were significantly enhanced in the leaves of overexpressed lines. Gene expression analyses indicated that many flavonoid (flavonol) and anthocyanin genes were up-regulated by 4–15 folds in transgenic Arabidopsis. Moreover, after 14 days of high light stress, the transgenic Arabidopsis lines showed strong antioxidant activity and higher total contents of anthocyanins and flavonoids in leaves compared with the wild type.ConclusionOur study concluded that the citrus Cs-UGT78D3 gene contributes to proanthocyanidins accumulation in seed coats and confers tolerance to high light stress by accumulating the total anthocyanin and flavonoid contents with better antioxidant potential (due to photoprotective activity of anthocyanin) in the transgenic Arabidopsis.