The shoot apical meristem (SAM) is composed of a population of stem cells giving rise to the aboveground parts of plants. It maintains itself by controlling the balance of cell proliferation and specification. Although knowledge of the mechanisms maintaining the SAM has been accumulating, the processes of cellular specification to form leaves and replenishment of unspecified cells in the SAM during a plastochron (the time interval between which two successive leaf primordia are formed) is still obscure. In this study, we developed a method to quantify the number of specified and unspecified cells in the SAM and used it to elucidate the dynamics of cellular specification in the SAM during a plastochron in rice. OSH1 is a KNOX (KNOTTED1-like homeobox) gene in rice that is expressed in the unspecified cells in the SAM, but not in specified cells. Thus, we could visualize and count the nuclei of unspecified cells by fluorescent immunohistochemical staining with an anti-OSH1 antibody followed by fluorescein isothiocyanate detection. By double-staining with propidium iodide (which stains all nuclei) and then overlaying the images, we could also detect and count the specified cells. By using these measurements in combination with morphological observation, we defined four developmental stages of SAM that portray cellular specification and replenishment of unspecified cells in the SAM during a plastochron. In addition, through the analysis of mutant lines with altered size and shape of the SAM, we found that the number of specified cells destined to form a leaf primordium is not affected by mild perturbations of meristem size and shape. Our study highlights the dynamism and flexibility in stem cell maintenance in the SAM during a plastochron and the robustness of plant development.
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