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Ectopic anthocyanin pigmentation in maize as a tool for defining interactions between homologous regulatory factors

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The duplicated R and Sn genes are involved in the regulation of the maize anthocyanin biosynthetic pathway, encoding tissue-specific products that are homologous to the helix-loop-helix transcriptional activators. Sn determines the pigmentation of the mesocotyl, leaf basis and pericarp, while R determines pigmentation in various tissues, but not in the mesocotyl. In the progeny derived from test-crosses of R/Sn heterozygous plants, a high frequency of R plants exhibiting mesocotyl pigmentation was observed; these derivatives were defined as R*. In R* plants, the presence of this novel trait was not accompanied by the acquisition of Sn or by gross DNA rearrangements in the R profile. Accordingly, RT-PCR analysis showed that mesocotyl pigmentation in R* was attributable to the resident R gene. The occurrence of R* was observed with all R alleles tested, and was enhanced when a P component was present. The heritability of R* was shown only in the case of the standard R-r allele, which carries a functional P component. In addition, we observed that R* can influence other R alleles, transferring the ability to pigment the mesocotyl. R* is unstable, showing a tendency to return to its original state after a few generations. In R* plants there was a correlation between observed ectopic pigmentation and an increase in the level of A1 transcript but, surprisingly, not in the accumulation of R transcript. The results obtained from the analysis of test crosses of rSn/rΔ plants suggest that an unlinked genetic factor accounts for the ectopic pigmentation. Concomitant occurrence of epigenetic events might explain the observed instability and reversibility noted above. Further study of this phenomenon might help to elucidate the basis of the interaction between homologous and non-homologous regulators.

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Received: 7 March 1997 / Accepted: 27 June 1997

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Consonni, G., Ronchi, A., Pilu, R. et al. Ectopic anthocyanin pigmentation in maize as a tool for defining interactions between homologous regulatory factors. Mol Gen Genet 256, 265–276 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004380050569

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  • Key wordsR locus
  • Sn locus
  • Anthocyanins
  • Tissue specificity
  • Paramutation