Plant morphogenesis depends on an array of microtubules in the cell cortex, the cortical array. Although the cortical array is known to be essential for morphogenesis, it is not known how the array becomes organized or how it functions mechanistically. Here, we report the development of an in vitro model that provides good access to the cortical array while preserving the array's organization and, importantly, its association with the cell wall. Primary roots of maize (Zea mays) are sectioned, without fixation, in a drop of buffer and then incubated as desired before eventual fixation. Sectioning removes cytoplasm except for a residuum comprising cortical microtubules, vesicles, and fragments of plasma membrane underlying the microtubules. The majority of the cortical microtubules remain in the cut-open cells for more than 1 h, fully accessible to the incubation solution. The growth zone or more mature tissue can be sectioned, providing access to cortical arrays that are oriented either transversely or obliquely to the long axis of the root. Using this assay, we report, first, that cortical microtubule stability is regulated by protein phosphorylation; second, that cortical microtubule stability is a function of orientation, with divergent microtubules within the array depolymerizing within minutes of sectioning; and third, that the polarity of microtubules in the cortical array is not uniform. These results suggest that the organization of the cortical array involves random nucleation followed by selective stabilization of microtubules formed at the appropriate orientation, and that the signal specifying alignment must treat orientations of +/- 180 degrees as equivalent.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.