Microspore embryogenesis is a model system of plant cell reprogramming, totipotency acquisition, stress response and embryogenesis initiation. This in vitro system constitutes an important biotechnological tool for haploid and doubled-haploid plant production, very useful for crop breeding. In this process, microspores (cells that produce pollen grains in planta) are reprogrammed toward embryogenesis by specific stress treatment, but many microspores die after the stress. The occurrence of cell death is a serious limiting problem that greatly reduces microspore embryogenesis yield. In animals, increasing evidence has revealed caspase proteolytic activities as essential executioners of programmed cell death (PCD) processes, however, less is known in plants. Although plant genomes do not contain caspase homologues, caspase-like proteolytic activities have been detected in many plant PCD processes. In the present study, we have analysed caspase 3-like activity and its involvement in stress-induced cell death during initial stages of microspore embryogenesis of Brassica napus. After stress treatment to induce embryogenesis, isolated microspore cultures showed high levels of cell death and caspase 3-like proteolytic activity was induced. Treatments with specific inhibitor of caspase 3-like activity reduced cell death and increased embryogenesis induction efficiency. Our findings indicate the involvement of proteases with caspase 3-like activity in the initiation and/or execution of cell death at early microspore embryogenesis in B. napus, giving new insights into the pathways of stress-induced cell death in plants and opening a new way to improve in vitro embryogenesis efficiency by using chemical modulators of cell death proteases.
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