In flowering plants, the female gametophyte is typically a seven-celled structure with four cell types: the egg cell, the central cell, the synergid cells, and the antipodal cells. These cells perform essential functions required for double fertilization and early seed development. Differentiation of these distinct cell types likely involves coordinated changes in gene expression regulated by transcription factors. Therefore, understanding female gametophyte cell differentiation and function will require dissection of the gene regulatory networks operating in each of the cell types. These efforts have been hampered because few transcription factor genes expressed in the female gametophyte have been identified. To identify such genes, we undertook a large-scale differential expression screen followed by promoter-fusion analysis to detect transcription-factor genes transcribed in the Arabidopsis female gametophyte.
Using quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR, we analyzed 1,482 Arabidopsis transcription-factor genes and identified 26 genes exhibiting reduced mRNA levels in determinate infertile 1 mutant ovaries, which lack female gametophytes, relative to ovaries containing female gametophytes. Spatial patterns of gene transcription within the mature female gametophyte were identified for 17 transcription-factor genes using promoter-fusion analysis. Of these, ten genes were predominantly expressed in a single cell type of the female gametophyte including the egg cell, central cell and the antipodal cells whereas the remaining seven genes were expressed in two or more cell types. After fertilization, 12 genes were transcriptionally active in the developing embryo and/or endosperm.
We have shown that our quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR differential-expression screen is sufficiently sensitive to detect transcription-factor genes transcribed in the female gametophyte. Most of the genes identified in this study have not been reported previously as being expressed in the female gametophyte. Therefore, they might represent novel regulators and provide entry points for reverse genetic and molecular approaches to uncover the gene regulatory networks underlying female gametophyte development.