Background: . Development of petals and stamens in Arabidopsis flowers requires the function of the organ-identity gene APETALA3 (AP3), whose RNA is expressed specifically in petal and stamen primordia. AP3 expression is positively regulated by the meristem-identity gene LEAFY (LFY), which is expressed ubiquitously in young flowers. It is unknown how the transition from ubiquitous expression of LFY to region-specific expression of AP3 is made. It has previously been proposed for Antirrhinum that another gene, FIMBRIATA (FIM), mediates between the LFY and AP3 orthologs, with the three genes acting in a simple regulatory hierarchy. FIM is activated later than the LFY ortholog, and its expression is more restricted than that of the LFY ortholog.
Results: . We have tested whether the model proposed for Antirrhinum applies to Arabidopsis, by creating transgenic plants in which the FIM ortholog UNUSUAL FLORAL ORGANS (UFO) was expressed constitutively from the promoter of the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S gene. In 35S::UFO flowers, AP3 was expressed precociously and ectopically, confirming that UFO is an upstream regulator of AP3. However, 35S::UFO could not restore petal and stamen development in lfy mutants, indicating that UFO can only function in the presence of LFY activity. The failure of 35S::UFO to rescue lfy mutants is consistent with our observation that UFO expression levels are not markedly changed in lfy mutants.
Conclusions: . We conclude that UFO is not a simple mediator between meristem- and organ-identity genes, but is likely to be a partially dispensable co-regulator that acts together with LFY. The interplay between LFY and UFO provides a paradigm for how a global regulator such as LFY activates selected target genes only in restricted regions within its expression domain.