Plant 'muscles': fibers with a tertiary cell wall

New Phytol. 2018 Apr;218(1):66-72. doi: 10.1111/nph.14997. Epub 2018 Jan 24.


Plants, although sessile organisms, are nonetheless able to move their body parts; for example, during root contraction of geophytes or in the gravitropic reaction by woody stems. One of the major mechanisms enabling these movements is the development of specialized structures that possess contractile properties. Quite unlike animal muscles, for which the action is driven by protein-protein interactions in the protoplasma, the action of plant 'muscles' is polysaccharide-based and located in the uniquely designed, highly cellulosic cell wall that is deposited specifically in fibers. This review describes the development of such cell walls as a widespread phenomenon in the plant kingdom, gives reasons why it should be considered as a tertiary cell wall, and discusses the mechanism of action of the 'muscles'. The origin of the contractile properties lies in the tension of the axially oriented cellulose microfibrils due to entrapment of rhamnogalacturonan-I aggregates that limits the lateral interaction of microfibrils. Long side chains of the nascent rhamnogalacturonan-I are trimmed off during cell wall maturation leading to tension development. Similarities in the tertiary cell wall design in fibers of different plant origin indicate that the basic principles of tension creation may be universal in various ecophysiological situations.

Keywords: G-layer; cellulose; plant fibers; plant movement; rhamnogalacturonan-I; tertiary cell wall.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Cellulose / metabolism
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Plants / anatomy & histology*


  • Cellulose