Autophagy during maize endosperm development dampens oxidative stress and promotes mitochondrial clearance

Jessica A.S. Barros, Elizabeth C. Chatt, Robert C. Augustine, Fionn McLoughlin, Faqiang Li, Marisa S. Otegui, Richard D. Vierstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The selective turnover of macromolecules by autophagy provides a critical homeostatic mechanism for recycling cellular constituents and for removing superfluous and damaged organelles, membranes, and proteins. To better understand how autophagy impacts seed maturation and nutrient storage, we studied maize (Zea mays) endosperm in its early and middle developmental stages via an integrated multiomic approach using mutants impacting the core macroautophagy factor AUTOPHAGY (ATG)-12 required for autophagosome assembly. Surprisingly, the mutant endosperm in these developmental windows accumulated normal amounts of starch and Zein storage proteins. However, the tissue acquired a substantially altered metabolome, especially for compounds related to oxidative stress and sulfur metabolism, including increases in cystine, dehydroascorbate, cys-glutathione disulfide, glucarate, and galactarate, and decreases in peroxide and the antioxidant glutathione. While changes in the associated transcriptome were mild, the proteome was strongly altered in the atg12 endosperm, especially for increased levels of mitochondrial proteins without a concomitant increase in mRNA abundances. Although fewer mitochondria were seen cytologically, a heightened number appeared dysfunctional based on the accumulation of dilated cristae, consistent with attenuated mitophagy. Collectively, our results confirm that macroautophagy plays a minor role in the accumulation of starch and storage proteins during maize endosperm development but likely helps protect against oxidative stress and clears unneeded/dysfunctional mitochondria during tissue maturation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1415
Number of pages21
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2023


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