Prolamin storage proteins are the main repository for nitrogen in the endosperm of cereal seeds. These stable proteins accumulate at massive levels due to the high level expression from extensively duplicated genes in endoreduplicated cells. Such abundant accumulation is achieved through efficient packaging in endoplasmic reticulum localized protein bodies in a process that is not completely understood. Prolamins are also a key determinant of hard kernel texture in the mature seed; an essential characteristic of cereal grains like maize. However, deficiencies of key essential amino acids in prolamins result in relatively poor grain protein quality. The inverse relationship between prolamin accumulation and protein quality has fueled an interest in understanding the role of prolamins and other proteins in endosperm maturation. This article reviews recent technological advances that have enabled dissection of overlapping and non-redundant roles of prolamins, particularly the maize zeins. This has come through molecular characterization of mutants first identified many decades ago, selective down-regulation of specific zein genes or entire zein gene families, and most recently through combining deletion mutagenesis with current methods in genome and transcriptome profiling. Works aimed at understanding prolamin deposition and function as well as creating novel variants with improved nutritional and digestibility characteristics, are reported.
Keywords: QPM; deletion_mutagenesis; endosperm; kafirin; prolamin; protein_body; storage_protein; zein.