The homeodomain-leucine zipper (HD-Zip) transcription factor family plays vital roles in plant development and morphogenesis as well as responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. In barley, a recessive mutation in Vrs1 (HvHox1) changes two-rowed barley to six-rowed barley, which improves yield considerably. The Vrs1 gene encodes an HD-Zip subfamily I transcription factor. Phylogenetic analysis has shown that the rice HD-Zip I genes Oshox12 and Oshox14 are the closest homologues of Vrs1. Here, we show that Oshox12 and Oshox14 are ubiquitously expressed with higher levels in developing panicles. Trans-activation assays in yeast and rice protoplasts demonstrated that Oshox12 and Oshox14 can bind to a specific DNA sequence, AH1 (CAAT(A/T)ATTG), and activate reporter gene expression. Overexpression of Oshox12 and Oshox14 in rice resulted in reduced panicle length and a dwarf phenotype. In addition, Oshox14 overexpression lines showed a deficiency in panicle exsertion. Our findings suggest that Oshox12 and Oshox14 may be involved in the regulation of panicle development. This study provides a significant advancement in understanding the functions of HD-Zip transcription factors in rice.
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