The primary inflorescence stem of Arabidopsis thaliana is rich in lignified cell walls, in both vascular bundles and interfascicular fibres. Previous gene expression studies demonstrated a correlation between expression of phenylpropanoid biosynthetic genes and a subset of genes encoding ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters, especially in the ABCB/multi-drug resistance/P-glycoprotein (ABCB/MDR/PGP) and ABCG/pleiotropic drug resistance (ABCG/PDR) subfamilies. The objective of this study was to characterize these ABC transporters in terms of their gene expression and their function in development of lignified cells. Based on in silico analyses, four ABC transporters were selected for detailed investigation: ABCB11/MDR8, ABCB14/MDR12, ABCB15/MDR13, and ABCG33/PDR5. Promoter::glucuronidase reporter assays for each gene indicated that promoters of ABCB11, ABCB14, ABCB15, and ABCG33 transporters are active in the vascular tissues of primary stem, and in some cases in interfascicular tissues as well. Homozygous T-DNA insertion mutant lines showed no apparent irregular xylem phenotype or alterations in interfascicular fibre lignification or morphology in comparison with wild type. However, in abcb14-1 mutants, stem vascular morphology was slightly disorganized, with decreased phloem area in the vascular bundle and decreased xylem vessel lumen diameter. In addition, abcb14-1 mutants showed both decreased polar auxin transport through whole stems and altered auxin distribution in the procambium. It is proposed that both ABCB14 and ABCB15 promote auxin transport since inflorescence stems in both mutants showed a reduction in polar auxin transport, which was not observed for any of the ABCG subfamily mutants tested. In the case of ABCB14, the reduction in auxin transport is correlated with a mild disruption of vascular development in the inflorescence stem.
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