WUSCHEL-RELATED HOMEOBOX4 (WOX4)-like genes regulate cambial cell division activity and secondary growth in Populus trees
New Phytol. 2017, 215 (2):642-657

Kucukoglu M, Nilsson J, Zheng B, Chaabouni S, Nilsson O

Abstract
Plant secondary growth derives from the meristematic activity of the vascular cambium. In Arabidopsis thaliana, cell divisions in the cambium are regulated by the transcription factor WOX4, a key target of the CLAVATA3 (CLV3)/EMBRYO SURROUNDING REGION (ESR)-RELATED 41 (CLE41) signaling pathway. However, function of the WOX4-like genes in plants that are dependent on a much more prolific secondary growth, such as trees, remains unclear. Here, we investigate the role of WOX4 and CLE41 homologs for stem secondary growth in Populus trees. In Populus, PttWOX4 genes are specifically expressed in the cambial region during vegetative growth, but not after growth cessation and during dormancy, possibly involving a regulation by auxin. In PttWOX4a/b RNAi trees, primary growth was not affected whereas the width of the vascular cambium was severely reduced and secondary growth was greatly diminished. Our data show that in Populus trees, PttWOX4 genes control cell division activity in the vascular cambium, and hence growth in stem girth. This activity involves the positive regulation of PttWOX4a/b through PttCLE41-related genes. Finally, expression profiling suggests that the CLE41 signaling pathway is an evolutionarily conserved program for the regulation of vascular cambium activity between angiosperm and gymnosperm tree species.

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