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AGO18b negatively regulates determinacy of spikelet meristems on the tassel central spike in maize

Sun, Wei, Xiang, Xiaoli, Zhai, Lihong, Zhang, Dan, Cao, Zheng, Liu, Lei, Zhang, Zuxin
Journal of integrative plant biology 2018 v.60 no.1 pp. 65-78
RNA, corn, gametogenesis, inflorescences, males, meristems, transcription (genetics), transcription factors
The maize tassel represents an indeterminate male inflorescence. The number of primordia that a given inflorescence meristem produces is related to its determinacy, i.e., capacity for continued meristem activity. Transcription factors (TFs) controlling determinacy in tassel axillary meristems are well studied in maize, and small RNAs are known to influence tassel development by repressing targets, including tassel‐related TFs. As core components of the RNA‐inducible silence complex (RISC), Argonaute (AGO) proteins are required for small RNA‐mediated repression. Here, we characterized the biological function of AGO18b, a tassel‐enriched AGO. The abundance of AGO18b transcripts gradually increased during tassel development from inception to gametogenesis and were enriched in the inflorescence meristem and axillary meristems of the tassel. Repressing AGO18b expression resulted in more spikelets, which contributed to a longer central spike of the tassel. Additionally, the transcripts of several HD‐ZIP III TFs that were canonical targets of microRNA166 (miR166) accumulated in the AGO18b‐repressed lines. We propose that AGO18b is a negative regulator of the determinacy of inflorescence and axillary meristems, and that it acts by interacting with the miR166‐HD‐ZIP III TF regulatory pathway.