The AP2/ERF transcription factor SlERF52 functions in flower pedicel abscission in tomato

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In plants, abscission removes senescent, injured, infected, or dispensable organs. Induced by auxin depletion and an ethylene burst, abscission requires pronounced changes in gene expression, including genes for cell separation enzymes and regulators of signal transduction and transcription. However, the understanding of the molecular basis of this regulation remains incomplete. To examine gene regulation in abscission, this study examined an ERF family transcription factor, tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) ETHYLENE-RESPONSIVE FACTOR 52 (SlERF52). SlERF52 is specifically expressed in pedicel abscission zones (AZs) and SlERF52 expression is suppressed in plants with impaired function of MACROCALYX and JOINTLESS, which regulate pedicel AZ development. RNA interference was used to knock down SlERF52 expression to show that SlERF52 functions in flower pedicel abscission. When treated with an abscission-inducing stimulus, the SlERF52-suppressed plants showed a significant delay in flower abscission compared with wild type. They also showed reduced upregulation of the genes for the abscission-associated enzymes cellulase and polygalacturonase. SlERF52 suppression also affected gene expression before the abscission stimulus, inhibiting the expression of pedicel AZ-specific transcription factor genes, such as the tomato WUSCHEL homologue, GOBLET, and Lateral suppressor, which may regulate meristematic activities in pedicel AZs. These results suggest that SlERF52 plays a pivotal role in transcriptional regulation in pedicel AZs at both pre-abscission and abscission stages.

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