We characterized the progression of programmed cell death during maize (Zea mays L.) endosperm development of starchy (Su; wild-type) and shrunken2 (sh2) genotypes and tested the involve ment of ethylene in mediating this process. Histological and viability staining demonstrated that endosperm cell death was initiated earlier and progressed more rapidly in sh2 endosperm compared with Su endosperm. Internucleosomal DNA fragmentation accompanied endosperm cell death and occurred more extensively in sh2 endosperm. 1-Aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid levels peaked approximately 16 d after pollination (dap) in Su endosperm and gradually decreased during subsequent development, whereas two large 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid peaks were observed in sh2 endosperm, the first between 16 and 20 dap and the second at 36 dap. Ethylene levels were elevated in sh2 kernels compared with Su kernels, with an initial peak 20 dap approximately 3-fold higher than in Su kernels and a second peak 36 dap approximately 5-fold higher than that in Su kernels. Ethylene treatment of Su kernels resulted in earlier and more extensive endosperm cell death and DNA fragmentation. Aminoethoxyvinylglycine treatment of sh2 kernels reduced the extent of DNA fragmentation. We conclude that ethylene is involved in triggering programmed cell death in developing maize endosperm and is responsible for the aberrant phenotype of sh2 kernels.
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