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Mol Genet Genomics. 2004 Apr;271(3):267-81. Epub 2004 Feb 4.

The ethylene biosynthetic and perception machinery is differentially expressed during endosperm and embryo development in maize.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0129, USA.


The maize endosperm undergoes programmed cell death late in its development so that, with the exception of the aleurone layer, the tissue is dead by the time the kernel matures. Although ethylene is known to regulate the onset of endosperm cell death, the temporal and spatial control of the ethylene biosynthetic and perception machinery during maize endosperm development has not been examined. In this study, we report the isolation of the maize gene families for ACC synthase, ACC oxidase, the ethylene receptor, and EIN2 and EIL, which act downstream of the receptor. We show that ACC oxidase is expressed primarily in the endosperm, and only at low levels in the developing embryo late in its development. ACC synthase is expressed throughout endosperm development but, in contrast to ACC oxidase, it is transiently expressed to a significantly higher level in the developing embryo at a time that corresponds with the onset of endosperm cell death. Only two ethylene receptor gene families were identified in maize, in contrast to the five types previously identified in Arabidopsis. Members of both ethylene receptor families were expressed to substantially higher levels in the developing embryo than in the endosperm, as were members of the EIN2 and EIL gene families. These results suggest that the endosperm and embryo both contribute to the synthesis of ethylene, and they provide a basis for understanding why the developing endosperm is especially sensitive to ethylene-induced cell death while the embryo is protected.

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