Homeodomain transcription factors play critical roles in metazoan development. BELLRINGER (BLR), one such transcription factor, is involved in diverse developmental processes in Arabidopsis, acting in vascular differentiation, phyllotaxy, flower and fruit development. BLR also has a redundant role in meristem maintenance. Cell wall remodelling underpins many of these processes, and BLR has recently been shown to regulate expression of PECTIN METHYL-ESTERASE 5 (PME5), a cell wall modifying enzyme in control of phyllotaxy. We have further explored the role of BLR in plant development by analysing phenotypes and gene expression in a series of plants over-expressing BLR, and generating combinatorial mutants with blr, brevipedicellus (bp), a member of the KNOX1 family of transcription factors that has previously been shown to interact with blr, and the homeodomain transcription factor revoluta (rev), required for radial patterning of the stem.
Plants over-expressing BLR exhibited a wide range of phenotypes. Some were defective in cell size and demonstrated misregulation of genes predominantly affecting cell wall development. Other lines with more extreme phenotypes failed to generate lateral organs, consistent with BLR repressing transcription in the shoot apex. Cell wall dynamics are also affected in blr mutant plants, and BLR has previously been shown to regulate vascular development in conjunction with BP. We found that when bp and blr were combined with rev, a set of defects was observed that were distinct from those of bp blr lines. In these triple mutants xylem development was most strikingly affected, resulting in an almost complete lack of vessels and xylem parenchyma with secondary thickening.
Our data support a role for BLR in ordering the shoot apex and, in conjunction with BP and REV, playing a part in determining the composition and organisation of the vascular system. Microarray analysis strongly indicates that the striking vascular phenotypes of blr bp rev triple mutants and plants over-expressing BLR result from the misregulation of a suite of genes, targets of BLR in wild type plants, that determine cell size and structure in the developing vasculature.