Mechanisms and function of flower and inflorescence reversion
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1093/jxb/eri254
Flower and inflorescence reversion involve a switch from floral development back to vegetative development, thus rendering flowering a phase in an ongoing growth pattern rather than a terminal act of the meristem. Although it can be considered an unusual event, reversion raises questions about the nature and function of flowering. It is linked to environmental conditions and is most often a response to conditions opposite to those that induce flowering. Research on molecular genetic mechanisms underlying plant development over the last 15 years has pinpointed some of the key genes involved in the transition to flowering and flower development. Such investigations have also uncovered mutations which reduce floral maintenance or alter the balance between vegetative and floral features of the plant. How this information contributes to an understanding of floral reversion is assessed here. One issue that arises is whether floral commitment (defined as the ability to continue flowering when inductive conditions no longer exist) is a developmental switch affecting the whole plant or is a mechanism which assigns autonomy to individual meristems. A related question is whether floral or vegetative development is the underlying default pathway of the plant. This review begins by considering how studies of flowering in Arabidopsis thaliana have aided understanding of mechanisms of floral maintenance. Arabidopsis has not been found to revert to leaf production in any of the conditions or genetic backgrounds analysed to date. A clear-cut reversion to leaf production has, however, been described in Impatiens balsamina. It is proposed that a single gene controls whether Impatiens reverts or can maintain flowering when inductive conditions are removed, and it is inferred that this gene functions to control the synthesis or transport of a leaf-generated signal. But it is also argued that the susceptibility of Impatiens to reversion is a consequence of the meristem-based mechanisms controlling development of the flower in this species. Thus, in Impatiens, a leaf-derived signal is critical for completion of flowering and can be considered to be the basis of a plant-wide floral commitment that is achieved without accompanying meristem autonomy. The evidence, derived from in vitro and other studies, that similar mechanisms operate in other species is assessed. It is concluded that most species (including Arabidopsis) are less prone to reversion because signals from the leaf are less ephemeral, and the pathways driving flower development have a high level of redundancy that generates meristem autonomy even when leaf-derived signals are weak. This gives stability to the flowering process, even where its initiation is dependent on environmental cues. On this interpretation, Impatiens reversion appears as an anomaly resulting from an unusual combination of leaf signalling and meristem regulation. Nevertheless, it is shown that the ability to revert can serve a function in the life history strategy (perenniality) or reproductive habit (pseudovivipary) of many plants. In these instances reversion has been assimilated into regular plant development and plays a crucial role there.