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Bioessays. 2007 Sep;29(9):861-70.

Breaking the silence: three bHLH proteins direct cell-fate decisions during stomatal development.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Stomata are microscopic pores on the surface of land plants used for gas and water vapor exchange. A pair of highly specialized guard cells surround the pore and adjust pore size. Studies in Arabidopsis have revealed that cell-cell communication is essential to coordinate the asymmetric cell divisions required for proper stomatal patterning. Initial research in this area identified signaling molecules that negatively regulate stomatal differentiation. However, genes promoting cell-fate transition leading to mature guard cells remained elusive. Now, three closely related basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) proteins, SPEECHLESS, MUTE and FAMA have been identified as positive regulators that direct three consecutive cell-fate decisions during stomatal development. The identification of these genes opens a new direction to investigate the evolution of stomatal development and the conserved functions of bHLH proteins in cell type differentiation adopted by plants and animals.

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