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The diverse roles of cytokinins in regulating leaf development

  • Wu, Wenqi1
  • Du, Kang1, 2, 3
  • Kang, Xiangyang1, 2, 3
  • Wei, Hairong4
  • 1 Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Tree Breeding by Molecular Design, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, PR China , Beijing (China)
  • 2 National Engineering Laboratory for Tree Breeding, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, China , Beijing (China)
  • 3 Key Laboratory for Genetics and Breeding in Forest Trees and Ornamental Plants, Ministry of Education, College of Biological Sciences and Technology, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, China , Beijing (China)
  • 4 College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, USA , Houghton (United States)
Published Article
Horticulture Research
Nature Publishing Group UK
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2021
DOI: 10.1038/s41438-021-00558-3
Springer Nature


Leaves provide energy for plants, and consequently for animals, through photosynthesis. Despite their important functions, plant leaf developmental processes and their underlying mechanisms have not been well characterized. Here, we provide a holistic description of leaf developmental processes that is centered on cytokinins and their signaling functions. Cytokinins maintain the growth potential (pluripotency) of shoot apical meristems, which provide stem cells for the generation of leaf primordia during the initial stage of leaf formation; cytokinins and auxins, as well as their interaction, determine the phyllotaxis pattern. The activities of cytokinins in various regions of the leaf, especially at the margins, collectively determine the final leaf morphology (e.g., simple or compound). The area of a leaf is generally determined by the number and size of the cells in the leaf. Cytokinins promote cell division and increase cell expansion during the proliferation and expansion stages of leaf cell development, respectively. During leaf senescence, cytokinins reduce sugar accumulation, increase chlorophyll synthesis, and prolong the leaf photosynthetic period. We also briefly describe the roles of other hormones, including auxin and ethylene, during the whole leaf developmental process. In this study, we review the regulatory roles of cytokinins in various leaf developmental stages, with a focus on cytokinin metabolism and signal transduction processes, in order to shed light on the molecular mechanisms underlying leaf development.

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