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Reproductive biology in citrus is still poorly understood. Although in recent years several efforts have been made to study pollen-pistil interaction and self-incompatibility, little information is available about the molecular mechanisms regulating these processes. Here we report the identification of candidate genes involved in pollen-pistil interaction and self-incompatibility in clementine (Citrus clementina Hort. ex Tan.). These genes have been identified comparing the transcriptomes of laser-microdissected stylar canal cells (SCC) isolated from two genotypes differing for self-incompatibility response ('Comune', a self-incompatible cultivar and 'Monreal', a self- compatible mutation of 'Comune').
The transcriptome profiling of SCC indicated that the differential regulation of few specific, mostly uncharacterized transcripts is associated with the breakdown of self-incompatibility in 'Monreal'. Among them, a novel F-box gene showed a drastic up-regulation both in laser microdissected stylar canal cells and in self-pollinated whole styles with stigmas of 'Comune' in concomitance with the arrest of pollen tube growth. Moreover, we identify a non-characterized gene family as closely associated to the self-incompatibility genetic program activated in 'Comune'. Three different aspartic-acid rich (Asp-rich) protein genes, located in tandem in the clementine genome, were over-represented in the transcriptome of 'Comune'. These genes are tightly linked to a DELLA gene, previously found to be up-regulated in the self-incompatible genotype during pollen-pistil interaction.
The highly specific transcriptome survey of the stylar canal cells identified novel genes which have not been previously associated with self-pollen rejection in citrus and in other plant species. Bioinformatic and transcriptional analyses suggested that the mutation leading to self-compatibility in 'Monreal' affected the expression of non-homologous genes located in a restricted genome region. Also, we hypothesize that the Asp-rich protein genes may act as Ca2+ "entrapping" proteins, potentially regulating Ca2+ homeostasis during self-pollen recognition.