The flowering repressors SMZ and FLM, members of the AP-2 and MADS domain transcription factor families, unexpectedly work together to regulate flowering time via their effects on expression of the FT gene.
A small mobile protein, encoded by the FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT) locus, plays a central role in the control of flowering. FT is regulated positively by CONSTANS (CO), the output of the photoperiod pathway, and negatively by FLC, which integrates the effects of prolonged cold exposure. Here, we reveal the mechanisms of regulation by the microRNA miR172 target SCHLAFMÜTZE (SMZ), a potent repressor of flowering. Whole-genome mapping of SMZ binding sites demonstrates not only direct regulation of FT, but also of many other flowering time regulators acting both upstream and downstream of FT, indicating an important role of miR172 and its targets in fine tuning the flowering response. A role for the miR172/SMZ module as a rheostat in flowering time is further supported by SMZ binding to several other genes encoding miR172 targets. Finally, we show that the action of SMZ is completely dependent on another floral repressor, FLM, providing the first direct connection between two important classes of flowering time regulators, AP2- and MADS-domain proteins.
Flowering is a pivotal event in the life cycle of many plants and is therefore under tight control. The ability to detect the daily photoperiod is of particular importance in many plant species, as it enables them to enter the reproductive phase in response to seasonal changes in day length. When the photoperiod is permissive to flowering, a signal is produced in leaves that is transported to the shoot meristem, where it initiates the formation of flowers. It is now widely accepted that an important component of this long-distance signal is the flowering protein FT. Here, we show that the AP2-like transcription factor SMZ, which represses flowering and is a target of the regulatory miRNA172 microRNA, functions together with related proteins to directly regulate FT expression. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled to genome tiling arrays, we find that SMZ binds directly to the FT genomic locus and to several other key flowering-related loci. Unexpectedly, the ability of SMZ to repress flowering strictly depends on the presence of the MADS-domain transcription factor FLM. In addition, SMZ binds to its own regulatory sequences and those of three closely related genes, providing evidence of strong negative feedback between SMZ and the other AP2-like miRNA172 targets.