Pectin-induced changes in cell wall mechanics underlie organ initiation in Arabidopsis

Curr Biol. 2011 Oct 25;21(20):1720-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.057. Epub 2011 Oct 6.


Tissue mechanics have been shown to play a key role in the regulation of morphogenesis in animals [1-4] and may have an equally important role in plants [5-9]. The aerial organs of plants are formed at the shoot apical meristem following a specific phyllotactic pattern [10]. The initiation of an organ from the meristem requires a highly localized irreversible surface deformation, which depends on the demethylesterification of cell wall pectins [11]. Here, we used atomic force microscopy (AFM) to investigate whether these chemical changes lead to changes in tissue mechanics. By mapping the viscoelasticity and elasticity in living meristems, we observed increases in tissue elasticity, correlated with pectin demethylesterification, in primordia and at the site of incipient organs. Measurements of tissue elasticity at various depths showed that, at the site of incipient primordia, the first increases occurred in subepidermal tissues. The results support the following causal sequence of events: (1) demethylesterification of pectin is triggered in subepidermal tissue layers, (2) this contributes to an increase in elasticity of these layers-the first observable mechanical event in organ initiation, and (3) the process propagates to the epidermis during the outgrowth of the organ.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / cytology*
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / genetics
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Cell Wall / chemistry*
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Elasticity
  • Mechanical Phenomena
  • Meristem / cytology*
  • Meristem / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Pectins / metabolism*
  • Plant Epidermis / cytology
  • Plant Epidermis / growth & development
  • Plant Epidermis / metabolism


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Pectins
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases
  • pectinesterase