Ultrastructural characterization of maize (Zea mays L.) kernels exposed to high temperature during endosperm cell division

P. D. Commuri, Robert J. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study reports the ultrastructural changes in maize endosperm that result from exposure to high temperature during cell division. Kernels were grown in vitro at 25 °C continuously (control) and at 5 d after pollination (DAP) subsamples were transferred to continuous 35 °C for either 4 or 6 d. The 4 d treatment reduced kernel mass by 40% and increased kernel abortion three-fold. The 6-d high-temperature treatment resulted in a 77% reduction in kernel mass and a 12-fold increase in kernel abortion. Evaluation of the kernels at 11 DAP using scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed that the reduced kernel mass and/or abortion was associated with the disruption of cell division and amyloplast biogenesis in the periphery of the endosperm. This was further confirmed by the presence of an irregular-shaped nucleus, altered size of the nucleolus, highly dense nucleoplasm, and a decrease in the number of proplastids and amyloplasts. Thus, the endosperm cavity was not filled, the total number of endosperm cells was reduced by 35 and 70%, and the number of starch granules was decreased by 45 and 80% after exposure to 4 and 6 d of high-temperature treatments, respectively. This also resulted in a 35-70% reduction in total starch accumulation. KI/I2 staining and light microscopy revealed that starch accumulation in the peripheral endosperm cells was reduced more severely than in the central zones. However, the scanning electron micrographs of cells from the central endosperm showed that the number and the size of apparently viable amyloplasts were reduced and isolated granules were smaller and/or showed enhanced pitting. These ultrastructural data support the hypothesis that high temperature during endosperm cell division reduces kernel sink potential and subsequently mature kernel mass, mainly by disrupting cell division and amyloplast biogenesis in the peripheral and central endosperm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-385
Number of pages11
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Amyloplast number
  • Cell division
  • Corn
  • High temperature
  • Kernel morphology
  • Kernel sink potential
  • Kernel ultrastructure
  • Zea mays L.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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