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    To explore the function of Dof transcription factors during kernel development in maize, we first identified Dof genes in the maize genome. We found that ZmDof3 was exclusively expressed in the endosperm of maize kernel and had the features of a Dof transcription factor. Suppression of ZmDof3 resulted in a defective kernel phenotype with reduced starch content and a partially patchy aleurone layer. The expression levels of starch synthesis-related genes and aleurone differentiation-associated genes were down-regulated in ZmDof3 knockdown kernels, indicating that ZmDof3 plays an important role in maize endosperm development. The maize endosperm, occupying a large proportion of the kernel, plays an important role in seed development and germination. Current knowledge regarding the regulation of endosperm development is limited. Dof proteins, a family of plant-specific transcription factors, play critical roles in diverse biological processes. In this study, an endosperm-specific Dof protein gene, ZmDof3, was identified in maize through genome-wide screening. Suppression of ZmDof3 resulted in a defective kernel phenotype. The endosperm of ZmDof3 knockdown kernels was loosely packed with irregular starch granules observed by electronic microscope. Through genome-wide expression profiling, we found that down-regulated genes were enriched in GO terms related to carbohydrate metabolism. Moreover, ZmDof3 could bind to the Dof core element in the promoter of starch biosynthesis genes Du1 and Su2 in vitro and in vivo. In addition, the aleurone at local position in mature ZmDof3 knockdown kernels varied from one to three layers, which consisted of smaller and irregular cells. Further analyses showed that knockdown of ZmDof3 reduced the expression of Nkd1, which is involved in aleurone cell differentiation, and that ZmDof3 could bind to the Dof core element in the Nkd1 promoter. Our study reveals that ZmDof3 functions in maize endosperm development as a positive regulator in the signaling system controlling starch accumulation and aleurone development.

    Citation

    Xin Qi, Shixue Li, Yaxi Zhu, Qian Zhao, Dengyun Zhu, Jingjuan Yu. ZmDof3, a maize endosperm-specific Dof protein gene, regulates starch accumulation and aleurone development in maize endosperm. Plant molecular biology. 2017 Jan;93(1-2):7-20

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    PMID: 27709320

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