BackgroundAnthocyanins are plants secondary metabolites important for plant adaptation to severe environments and potentially beneficial to human health. Purple colour of barley grain is caused by the pigments synthesized in pericarp. One or two genes determine the trait. One of them is Ant2 mapped on chromosome 2HL and is known to encode transcription factor (TF) with a bHLH domain. In plants, bHLH regulates anthocyanin biosynthesis together with TF harboring an R2R3-MYB domain. In wheat, the R2R3-MYBs responsible for purple colour of grain pericarp are encoded by the homoallelic series of the Pp-1 genes that were mapped on the short arms of chromosomes 7. In barley, in orthologous positions to wheat’s Pp-1, the Ant1 gene determining red colour of leaf sheath has been mapped. In the current study, we tested whether Ant1 has pleiotropic effect not only on leaf sheath colour but also on pericarp pigmentation.ResultsА set of near isogenic lines (NILs) carrying different combinations of alleles at the Ant1 and Ant2 loci was created using markers-assisted backcrossing approach. The dominant alleles of both the Ant1 and Ant2 genes are required for anthocyanin accumulation in pericarp. A qRT-PCR analysis of the Ant genes in lemma and pericarp of the NILs revealed that some reciprocal interaction occurs between the genes. Expression of each of the two genes was up-regulated in purple-grained line with dominant alleles at the both loci. The lines carrying dominant allele either in the Ant1 or in the Ant2 locus were characterized by the decreased level of expression of the dominant gene and scant activity of the recessive one. The Ant1 and Ant2 expression was barely detected in uncolored line with recessive alleles at both loci. The anthocyanin biosynthesis structural genes were differently regulated: Chs, Chi, F3h, Dfr were transcribed in all lines independently on allelic state of the Ant1 and Ant2 genes, whereas F3’h and Ans were activated in presence on dominant alleles of the both regulatory genes.ConclusionsThe R2R3-MYB-encoding counterpart (Ant1) of the regulatory Ant2 gene was determined for the first time. The dominant alleles of both of them are required for activation of anthocyanin synthesis in barley lemma and pericarp. The R2R3-MYB + bHLH complex activates the synthesis via affecting expression of the F3’h and Ans structural genes. In addition, positive regulatory loop between Ant1 and Ant2 was detected. Earlier the interaction between the anthocyanin biosynthesis regulatory genes has been revealed in dicot plant species only. Our data demonstrated that the regulatory mechanism is considered to be more common for plant kingdom than it has been reported so far.