Journal of experimental botany

The scutellum of germinated wheat grains undergoes programmed cell death: identification of an acidic nuclease involved in nucleus dismantling.

PMID 22888125


Programmed cell death (PCD) is a crucial phenomenon in the life cycle of cereal grains. In germinating grains, the scutellum allows the transport of nutrients from the starchy endosperm to the growing embryo, and therefore it may be the last grain tissue to undergo PCD. Thus, the aim of this work was to analyse whether the scutellum of wheat grains undergoes PCD and to perform a morphological and biochemical analysis of this process. Scutellum cells of grains following germination showed a progressive increase of DNA fragmentation, and the TUNEL assay showed that PCD extended in an apical-to-basal gradient along the scutellum affecting epidermal and parenchymal cells. Electron-transmission microscopy revealed high cytoplasm vacuolation, altered mitochondria, and the presence of double-membrane structures, which might constitute symptoms of vacuolar cell death, whereas the nucleus appeared lobed and had an increased heterochromatin content as the most distinctive features. An acid- and Zn(2+)-dependent nucleolytic activity was identified in nuclear extracts of scutellum cells undergoing PCD. This nuclease was not detected in grains imbibed in the presence of abscisic acid, which inhibited germination. This nucleolytic activity promoted DNA fragmentation in vitro on nuclei isolated from healthy cells, thus suggesting a main role in nucleus dismantling during PCD.

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