Background: MADS domain transcription factors play important roles in various developmental processes in flowering plants. Members of this family play a prominent role in the transition to flowering and the specification of floral organ identity. Several studies reported mRNA expression patterns of the genes encoding these MADS domain proteins, however, these studies do not provide the necessary information on the temporal and spatial localisation of the proteins. We have made GREEN FLUORESCENT PROTEIN (GFP) translational fusions with the four MADS domain proteins SEPALLATA3, AGAMOUS, FRUITFULL and APETALA1 from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and analysed the protein localisation patterns in living plant tissues by confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). Results: We unravelled the protein localisation patterns of the four MADS domain proteins at a cellular and subcellular level in inflorescence and floral meristems, during development of the early flower bud stages, and during further differentiation of the floral organs. The protein localisation patterns revealed a few deviations from known mRNA expression patterns, suggesting a non-cell autonomous action of these factors or alternative control mechanisms. In addition, we observed a change in the subcellular localisation of SEPALLATA3 from a predominantly nuclear localisation to a more cytoplasmic localisation, occurring specifically during petal and stamen development. Furthermore, we show that the down-regulation of the homeodomain transcription factor WUSCHEL in ovular tissues is preceded by the occurrence of both AGAMOUS and SEPALLATA3 proteins, supporting the hypothesis that both proteins together suppress WUSCHEL expression in the ovule. Conclusion: This approach provides a highly detailed in situ map of MADS domain protein presence during early and later stages of floral development. The subcellular localisation of the transcription factors in the cytoplasm, as observed at certain stages during development, points to mechanisms other than transcriptional control. Together this information is essential to understand the role of these proteins in the regulatory processes that drive floral development and leads to new hypotheses.
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