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Plant Physiol. 2011 Aug;156(4):1826-36. doi: 10.1104/pp.111.177725. Epub 2011 May 26.

The thick aleurone1 mutant defines a negative regulation of maize aleurone cell fate that functions downstream of defective kernel1.

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  • 1Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology Department, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA.


The maize (Zea mays) aleurone layer occupies the single outermost layer of the endosperm. The defective kernel1 (dek1) gene is a central regulator required for aleurone cell fate specification. dek1 mutants have pleiotropic phenotypes including lack of aleurone cells, aborted embryos, carotenoid deficiency, and a soft, floury endosperm deficient in zeins. Here we describe the thick aleurone1 (thk1) mutant that defines a novel negative function in the regulation of aleurone differentiation. Mutants possess multiple layers of aleurone cells as well as aborted embryos. Clonal sectors of thk1 mutant tissue in otherwise normal endosperm showed localized expression of the phenotype with sharp boundaries, indicating a localized cellular function for the gene. Sectors in leaves showed expanded epidermal cell morphology but the mutant epidermis generally remained in a single cell layer. Double mutant analysis indicated that the thk1 mutant is epistatic to dek1 for several aspects of the pleiotropic dek1 phenotype. dek1 mutant endosperm that was mosaic for thk1 mutant sectors showed localized patches of multilayered aleurone. Localized sectors were surrounded by halos of carotenoid pigments and double mutant kernels had restored zein profiles. In sum, loss of thk1 function restored the ability of dek1 mutant endosperm to accumulate carotenoids and zeins and to differentiate aleurone. Therefore the thk1 mutation defines a negative regulator that functions downstream of dek1 in the signaling system that controls aleurone specification and other aspects of endosperm development. The thk1 mutation was found to be caused by a deletion of approximately 2 megabases.

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