Regulatory networks that function to specify flower meristems require the function of homeobox genes PENNYWISE and POUND-FOOLISH in Arabidopsis

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Flowering is a major developmental phase change that transforms the fate of the shoot apical meristem (SAM) from a leaf-bearing vegetative meristem to that of a flower-producing inflorescence meristem. In Arabidopsis, floral meristems are specified on the periphery of the inflorescence meristem by the combined activities of the FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT)–FD complex and the flower meristem identity gene, LEAFY (LFY). Two redundant functioning homeobox genes, PENNYWISE (PNY) and POUND-FOOLISH (PNF), which are expressed in the vegetative and inflorescence SAM, regulate patterning events during reproductive development, including floral specification. To determine the role of PNY and PNF in the floral specification network, we characterized the genetic relationship of these homeobox genes with LFY and FT. Results from this study demonstrate that LFY functions downstream of PNY and PNF. Ectopic expression of LFY promotes flower formation in pny pnf plants, while the flower specification activity of ectopic FT is severely attenuated. Genetic analysis shows that when mutations in pny and pnf genes are combined with lfy, a synergistic phenotype is displayed that significantly reduces floral specification and alters inflorescence patterning events. In conclusion, results from this study support a model in which PNY and PNF promote LFY expression during reproductive development. At the same time, the flower formation activity of FT is dependent upon the function of PNY and PNF.

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