Background: Previous work showed that the maize primary root adapts to low Psiw (-1.6 MPa) by maintaining longitudinal expansion in the apical 3 mm (region 1), whereas in the adjacent 4 mm (region 2) longitudinal expansion reaches a maximum in well-watered roots but is progressively inhibited at low Psiw. To identify mechanisms that determine these responses to low Psiw, transcript expression was profiled in these regions of water-stressed and well-watered roots. In addition, comparison between region 2 of water-stressed roots and the zone of growth deceleration in well-watered roots (region 3) distinguished stress-responsive genes in region 2 from those involved in cell maturation.
Results: Responses of gene expression to water stress in regions 1 and 2 were largely distinct. The largest functional categories of differentially expressed transcripts were reactive oxygen species and carbon metabolism in region 1, and membrane transport in region 2. Transcripts controlling sucrose hydrolysis distinguished well-watered and water-stressed states (invertase vs. sucrose synthase), and changes in expression of transcripts for starch synthesis indicated further alteration in carbon metabolism under water deficit. A role for inositols in the stress response was suggested, as was control of proline metabolism. Increased expression of transcripts for wall-loosening proteins in region 1, and for elements of ABA and ethylene signaling were also indicated in the response to water deficit.
Conclusion: The analysis indicates that fundamentally different signaling and metabolic response mechanisms are involved in the response to water stress in different regions of the maize primary root elongation zone.