The nuclear envelope that separates the contents of the nucleus from the cytoplasm provides a surface for chromatin attachment and organization of the cortical nucleoplasm. Proteins associated with it have been well characterized in many eukaryotes but not in plants. SUN (Sad1p/Unc-84) domain proteins reside in the inner nuclear membrane and function with other proteins to form a physical link between the nucleoskeleton and the cytoskeleton. These bridges transfer forces across the nuclear envelope and are increasingly recognized to play roles in nuclear positioning, nuclear migration, cell cycle-dependent breakdown and reformation of the nuclear envelope, telomere-led nuclear reorganization during meiosis, and karyogamy.
We found and characterized a family of maize SUN-domain proteins, starting with a screen of maize genomic sequence data. We characterized five different maize ZmSUN genes (ZmSUN1-5), which fell into two classes (probably of ancient origin, as they are also found in other monocots, eudicots, and even mosses). The first (ZmSUN1, 2), here designated canonical C-terminal SUN-domain (CCSD), includes structural homologs of the animal and fungal SUN-domain protein genes. The second (ZmSUN3, 4, 5), here designated plant-prevalent mid-SUN 3 transmembrane (PM3), includes a novel but conserved structural variant SUN-domain protein gene class. Mircroarray-based expression analyses revealed an intriguing pollen-preferred expression for ZmSUN5 mRNA but low-level expression (50-200 parts per ten million) in multiple tissues for all the others. Cloning and characterization of a full-length cDNA for a PM3-type maize gene, ZmSUN4, is described. Peptide antibodies to ZmSUN3, 4 were used in western-blot and cell-staining assays to show that they are expressed and show concentrated staining at the nuclear periphery.
The maize genome encodes and expresses at least five different SUN-domain proteins, of which the PM3 subfamily may represent a novel class of proteins with possible new and intriguing roles within the plant nuclear envelope. Expression levels for ZmSUN1-4 are consistent with basic cellular functions, whereas ZmSUN5 expression levels indicate a role in pollen. Models for possible topological arrangements of the CCSD-type and PM3-type SUN-domain proteins are presented.