In the model flowering plant Arabidopsis, the CLAVATA (CLV) pathway functions antagonistically with cytokinin signaling to control the size of the multicellular SAM via negative regulation of the stem cell organizer WUSCHEL (WUS) Although comprising just a single cell, the SAM of the model moss Physcomitrium patens performs equivalent functions.
Plant shoots grow from stem cells within Shoot Apical Meristems (SAMs), which produce lateral organs while maintaining the stem cell pool. In the model flowering plant Arabidopsis, the CLAVATA (CLV) pathway functions antagonistically with cytokinin signaling to control the size of the multicellular SAM via negative regulation of the stem cell organizer WUSCHEL (WUS). Although comprising just a single cell, the SAM of the model moss Physcomitrium patens (formerly Physcomitrella) performs equivalent functions during stem cell maintenance and organogenesis, despite the absence of WUS-mediated stem cell organization. Our previous work showed that the stem cell-delimiting function of the CLV pathway receptors CLAVATA1 (CLV1) and RECEPTOR-LIKE PROTEIN KINASE2 (RPK2) is conserved in the moss P. patens. Here, we use P. patens to assess whether CLV-cytokinin crosstalk is also an evolutionarily conserved feature of stem cell regulation. Genetic analyses reveal that CLV1 and RPK2 regulate SAM proliferation via separate pathways in moss. Surprisingly, cytokinin receptor mutants also form ectopic stem cells in the absence of cytokinin signaling. Through modeling, we identified regulatory network archtectures that recapitulated the stem cell phenotypes of clv1 and rpk2 mutants, cytokinin application, cytokinin receptor mutations, and higher-order combinations of these perturbations. These models predict that CLV1 and RPK2 act through separate pathways wherein CLV1 represses cytokinin-mediated stem cell initiation and RPK2 inhibits this process via a separate, cytokinin-independent pathway. Our analysis suggests that crosstalk between CLV1 and cytokinin signaling is an evolutionarily conserved feature of SAM homeostasis that preceded the role of WUS in stem cell organization.