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The Populus homeobox gene ARBORKNOX2 regulates cell differentiation during secondary growth

Du, Juan, Mansfield, Shawn D., Groover, Andrew T.
Plant journal 2009 v.60 no.6 pp. 1000-1014
Populus, auxins, cambium, cell differentiation, cell division, cell walls, cellulose, coevolution, gene overexpression, genetically modified organisms, homeotic genes, lignin, phenotype, stem cells, stems, transcription (genetics), wood properties
The stem cells of the vascular cambium divide to produce daughter cells, which in turn divide before undergoing differentiation during the radial growth of woody stems. The genetic regulation of these developmental events is poorly understood, however. We report here the cloning and functional characterization of a Populus class-I KNOX homeobox gene, ARBORKNOX2 (ARK2), which we show influences terminal cell differentiation and cell wall properties during secondary growth. In the early stages of secondary growth, ARK2 is expressed broadly in the cambial zone and in terminally differentiating cell types, before becoming progressively restricted to the cambium. ARK2 overexpression and synthetic miRNA-suppression transgenics reveal positive correlations between ARK2 expression level and the timing of cambium formation, the width of the cambial zone and inhibition of cambial daughter cell differentiation. These phenotypes in turn correlate with changes in the expression of genes affecting transcription, cell division, auxin and cell wall synthesis. Notably, wood properties associated with secondary cell wall synthesis are negatively associated with ARK2 expression, including lignin and cellulose content. Together, our results suggest that ARK2 functions primarily to regulate a complex suite of genes that together influence cell differentiation during secondary growth. We propose that ARK2 may represent a co-evolved transcriptional module that influences complex, adaptive wood properties.