ERECTA1 Acts Upstream of the OsMKKK10-OsMKK4-OsMPK6 Cascade to Control Spikelet Number by Regulating Cytokinin Metabolism in Rice

Grain number is a flexible trait that strongly contributes to grain yield. In rice (Oryza sativa), the OsMKKK10-OsMKK4-OsMPK6 cascade, which is negatively regulated by the dual-specificity phosphatase GSN1, coordinates the trade-off between grain number and grain size. However, the specific components upstream and downstream of the GSN1-MAPK module that regulate spikelet number per panicle remain obscure. Here, we report that ERECTA1 (OsER1), a negative regulator of spikelet number per panicle, acts upstream of the OsMKKK10-OsMKK4-OsMPK6 cascade and that the OsER1-OsMKKK10-OsMKK4-OsMPK6 pathway is required to maintain cytokinin homeostasis. OsMPK6 directly interacts with and phosphorylates the zinc finger transcription factor DST to enhance its transcriptional activation of CYTOKININ OXIDASE2 (OsCKX2), indicating that the OsER1-OsMKKK10-OsMKK4-OsMPK6 pathway shapes panicle morphology by regulating cytokinin metabolism. Furthermore, overexpression of either DST or OsCKX2 rescued the spikelet number phenotype of the oser1, osmkkk10, osmkk4, and osmpk6 mutants, suggesting that the DST-OsCKX2 module genetically functions downstream of the OsER1-OsMKKK10-OsMKK4-OsMPK6 pathway. These findings reveal specific crosstalk between a MAPK signaling pathway and cytokinin metabolism, shedding light on how developmental signals modulate phytohormone homeostasis to shape the inflorescence.

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