Background: The transition from vegetative to floral state in shoot apical meristems (SAM) is a key event in plant development and is of crucial importance for reproductive success. In perennial plants, this event is recurrent during tree life and subject to both within-tree and between-years heterogeneity. In the present study, our goal was to identify candidate processes involved in the repression or induction of flowering in apical buds of adult apple trees. Results: Genes differentially expressed (GDE) were examined between trees artificially set in either 'ON' or 'OFF' situation, and in which floral induction (FI) was shown to be inhibited or induced in most buds, respectively, using qRT-PCR and microarray analysis. From the period of FI through to flower differentiation, GDE belonged to four main biological processes (i) response to stimuli, including response to oxidative stress; (ii) cellular processes, (iii) cell wall biogenesis, and (iv) metabolic processes including carbohydrate biosynthesis and lipid metabolic process. Several key regulator genes, especially TEMPRANILLO (TEM), FLORAL TRANSITION AT MERISTEM (FTM1) and SQUAMOSA PROMOTER BINDING PROTEIN-LIKE (SPL) were found differentially expressed. Moreover, homologs of SPL and Leucine-Rich Repeat proteins were present under QTL zones previously detected for biennial bearing. Conclusions: This data set suggests that apical buds of 'ON' and 'OFF' trees were in different physiological states, resulting from different metabolic, hormonal and redox status which are likely to contribute to FI control in adult apple trees. Investigations on carbohydrate and hormonal fluxes from sources to SAM and on cell detoxification process are expected to further contribute to the identification of the underlying physiological mechanisms of FI in adult apple trees. (Résumé d'auteur
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