The role of the Arabidopsis homeobox gene, GLABRA 2 (GL2), in the development of the root epidermis has been investigated. The wild-type epidermis is composed of two cell types, root-hair cells and hairless cells, which are located at distinct positions within the root, implying that positional cues control cell-type differentiation. During the development of the root epidermis, the differentiating root-hair cells (trichoblasts) and the differentiating hairless cells (atrichoblasts) can be distinguished by their cytoplasmic density, vacuole formation, and extent of elongation. We have determined that mutations in the GL2 gene specifically alter the differentiation of the hairless epidermal cells, causing them to produce root hairs, which indicates that GL2 affects epidermal cell identity. Detailed analyses of these differentiating cells showed that, despite forming root hairs, they are similar to atrichoblasts of the wild type in their cytoplasmic characteristics, timing of vacuolation, and extent of cell elongation. The results of in situ nucleic acid hybridization and GUS reporter gene fusion studies show that the GL2 gene is preferentially expressed in the differentiating hairless cells of the wild type, during a period in which epidermal cell identity is believed to be established. These results indicate that the GL2 homeodomain protein normally regulates a subset of the processes that occur during the differentiation of hairless epidermal cells of the Arabidopsis root. Specifically, GL2 appears to act in a cell-position-dependent manner to suppress hair formation in differentiating hairless cells.

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