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Summary

A family of homeo box genes with cell layer-specific expression patterns defining subdomains of the embryo and certain meristems has been isolated from maize. These genes encode proteins from the class of plant specific homeo domain-leucine zipper (HD-Zip) transcription factors containing the previously described ZmOCL1 protein, and have been designated ZmOCL2, ZmOCL3, ZmOCL4 and ZmOCL5. ZmOCL3, ZmOCL4 and ZmOCL5, like ZmOCL1, showed essentially L1 or epidermis-specific expression. However, each gene was expressed in a distinct region of the embryonic protoderm during early development, with ZmOCL3 showing suspensor-specific expression, ZmOCL4 transcripts being localized to the adaxial face of the embryo proper and ZmOCL5 showing a more abaxial expression pattern. All three genes were also expressed in vegetative, inflorescence and floral apices, although ZmOCL3 transcripts were excluded from meristems and very young organ primordia. In contrast, ZmOCL2 expression was entirely meristem-specific and was excluded from the L1 layer, appearing instead to be largely restricted to a cell layer directly beneath the L1, especially in floral meristems. This expression pattern is unprecedented and may indicate that cell-layer organization in maize meristems is more complex than that suggested by the classical L1/L2 (outer cell layer/inner cell mass) model. These differing expression patterns indicate that the members of the HD-ZipIV family of maize may not only play roles in defining different regions of the epidermis during embryonic development, but could also be responsible for maintaining cell-layer identity in meristematic regions.