The Arabidopsis thaliana NAC domain transcription factor VASCULAR-RELATED NAC-DOMAIN7 (VND7) acts as a master regulator of xylem vessel differentiation. To understand the mechanism by which VND7 regulates xylem vessel differentiation, we used a yeast two-hybrid system to screen for proteins that interact with VND7 and identified cDNAs encoding two NAC domain proteins, VND-INTERACTING1 (VNI1) and VNI2. Binding assays demonstrated that VNI2 effectively interacts with VND7 and the VND family proteins, VND1-5, as well as with other NAC domain proteins at lower affinity. VNI2 is expressed in both xylem and phloem cells in roots and inflorescence stems. The expression of VNI2 overlaps with that of VND7 in elongating vessel precursors in roots. VNI2 contains a predicted PEST motif and a C-terminally truncated VNI2 protein, which lacks part of the PEST motif, is more stable than full-length VNI2. Transient reporter assays showed that VNI2 is a transcriptional repressor and can repress the expression of vessel-specific genes regulated by VND7. Expression of C-terminally truncated VNI2 under the control of the VND7 promoter inhibited the normal development of xylem vessels in roots and aerial organs. These data suggest that VNI2 regulates xylem cell specification as a transcriptional repressor that interacts with VND proteins and possibly also with other NAC domain proteins.
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