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Open Access Research article

WUSCHEL-related Homeobox genes in Populus tomentosa: diversified expression patterns and a functional similarity in adventitious root formation

Bobin Liu12, Lin Wang23, Jin Zhang2, Jianbo Li2, Huanquan Zheng4, Jun Chen23* and Mengzhu Lu123*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Forest Genetics & Biotechnology of Ministry of Education, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing 210 037, China

2 State Key Laboratory of Tree Genetics and Breeding, Research Institute of Forestry, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing 100 091, China

3 Key Laboratory of Non-wood Forest Product of State Forestry Administration, School of Forestry, Central South University of Forestry and Technology, Changsha 410 004, China

4 Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Dr Penfield Avenue, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:296  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-296

Published: 21 April 2014



WUSCHEL (WUS)-related homeobox (WOX) protein family members play important roles in the maintenance and proliferation of the stem cell niche in the shoot apical meristem (SAM), root apical meristem (RAM), and cambium (CAM). Although the roles of some WOXs in meristematic cell regulation have been well studied in annual plants such as Arabidopsis and rice, the expression and function of WOX members in woody plant poplars has not been systematically investigated. Here, we present the identification and comprehensive analysis of the expression and function of WOXs in Populus tomentosa.


A genome-wide survey identified 18 WOX encoding sequences in the sequenced genome of Populus trichocarpa (PtrWOXs). Phylogenetic and gene structure analysis revealed that these 18 PtrWOXs fall into modern/WUS, intermediate, and ancient clades, but that the WOX genes in P. trichocarpa may have expanded differently from the WOX genes in Arabidopsis. In the P. trichocarpa genome, no WOX members could be closely classified as AtWOX3, AtWOX6, AtWOX7, AtWOX10, and AtWOX14, but there were two copies of WOX genes that could be classified as PtrWUS, PtrWOX2, PtrWOX4, PtrWOX5, PtrWOX8/9, and PtrWOX11/12, and three copies of WOX genes that could be classified as PtrWOX1 and PtrWOX13. The use of primers specific for each PtrWOX gene allowed the identification and cloning of 18 WOX genes from P. tomentosa (PtoWOXs), a poplar species physiologically close to P. trichocarpa. It was found that PtoWOXs and PtrWOXs shared very high amino acid sequence identity, and that PtoWOXs could be classified identically to PtrWOXs. We revealed that the expression patterns of some PtoWOXs were different to their Arabidopsis counterparts. When PtoWOX5a and PtoWOX11/12a, as well as PtoWUSa and PtoWOX4a were ectopically expressed in transgenic hybrid poplars, the regeneration of adventitious root (AR) was promoted, indicating a functional similarity of these four WOXs in AR regeneration.


This is the first attempt towards a systematical analysis of the function of WOXs in P. tomentosa. A diversified expression, yet functional similarity of PtoWOXs in AR regeneration is revealed. Our findings provide useful information for further elucidation of the functions and mechanisms of WOXs in the development of poplars.

Adventitious root; Expression; Homeobox; Populus; WOX; Wuschel-related