Significant progress has been made in elucidating the mechanism of abscisic acid (ABA)–regulated gene expression, including the characterization of an ABA-responsive element (ABRE), which is regulated by basic domain/Leu zipper transcription factors. In addition to the ABRE, a coupling element (CE1) has been demonstrated to be involved in ABA-induced expression. However, a trans factor that interacts with CE1 has yet to be characterized. We report the isolation of a seed-specific maize ABI4 homolog and demonstrate, using a PCR-based in vitro selection procedure, that the maize ABI4 protein binds to the CE-1 like sequence CACCG. Using electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we demonstrate that recombinant ZmABI4 protein binds to the CE1 element in a number of ABA-related genes. ZmABI4 also binds to the promoter of the sugar-responsive ADH1 gene, demonstrating the ability of this protein to regulate both ABA- and sugar-regulated pathways. ZmABI4 complements Arabidopsis ABI4 function, because abi4 mutant plants transformed with the ZmABI4 gene have an ABA- and sugar-sensitive phenotype. Identification of the maize ABI4 ortholog and the demonstration of its binding to a known ABA response element provide a link between ABA-mediated kernel development and the regulation of ABA response genes.
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