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Open Access Research article

Expression of cell wall related genes in basal and ear internodes of silking brown-midrib-3, caffeic acid O-methyltransferase (COMT) down-regulated, and normal maize plants

Sabine Guillaumie12, Deborah Goffner2, Odile Barbier2, Jean-Pierre Martinant3, Magalie Pichon2 and Yves Barrière1*

Author Affiliations

1 INRA, Unité de Génétique et d'Amélioration des Plantes Fourragères, BP6, F-86600 Lusignan, France

2 UPS CNRS UMR 5546, Chemin de Borde Rouge, F-31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France

3 Biogemma, ZI du Brézet, 8, rue des frères Lumière, F-63028 Clermont-Ferrand, France

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BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-8-71

Published: 26 June 2008



Silage maize is a major forage and energy resource for cattle feeding, and several studies have shown that lignin content and structure are the determining factors in forage maize feeding value. In maize, four natural brown-midrib mutants have modified lignin content, lignin structure and cell wall digestibility. The greatest lignin reduction and the highest cell wall digestibility were observed in the brown-midrib-3 (bm3) mutant, which is disrupted in the caffeic acid O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene.


Expression of cell wall related genes was investigated in basal and ear internodes of normal, COMT antisens (AS225), and bm3 maize plants of the INRA F2 line. A cell wall macro-array was developed with 651 gene specific tags of genes specifically involved in cell wall biogenesis. When comparing basal (older lignifying) and ear (younger lignifying) internodes of the normal line, all genes known to be involved in constitutive monolignol biosynthesis had a higher expression in younger ear internodes. The expression of the COMT gene was heavily reduced, especially in the younger lignifying tissues of the ear internode. Despite the fact that AS225 transgene expression was driven only in sclerenchyma tissues, COMT expression was also heavily reduced in AS225 ear and basal internodes. COMT disruption or down-regulation led to differential expressions of a few lignin pathway genes, which were all over-expressed, except for a phenylalanine ammonia-lyase gene. More unexpectedly, several transcription factor genes, cell signaling genes, transport and detoxification genes, genes involved in cell wall carbohydrate metabolism and genes encoding cell wall proteins, were differentially expressed, and mostly over-expressed, in COMT-deficient plants.


Differential gene expressions in COMT-deficient plants highlighted a probable disturbance in cell wall assembly. In addition, the gene expressions suggested modified chronology of the different events leading to cell expansion and lignification with consequences far beyond the phenylpropanoid metabolism. The reduced availability of monolignols and S units in bm3 or AS225 plants led to plants also differing in cell wall carbohydrate, and probably protein, composition. Thus, the deficiency in a key-enzyme of the lignin pathway had correlative effects on the whole cell wall metabolism. Furthermore, the observed differential expression between bm3 and normal plants indicated the possible involvement in the maize lignin pathway of genes which up until now have not been considered to play this role.