Aluminum (Al) is one of the most important crust elements causing reduced plant production in acidic soils. Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) is considered to be one of the crops that is most sensitive to Al, and the root cell wall is the primary target of Al toxicity. In this study, we evaluate the possible involvement of specific pectic epitopes in the cells of barley roots in response to aluminum exposure. We targeted four different pectic epitopes recognized by LM5, LM6, LM19, and LM20 antibodies using an immunocytochemical approach. Since Al becomes available and toxic to plants in acidic soils, we performed our analyses on barley roots that had been grown in acidic conditions (pH 4.0) with and without Al and in control conditions (pH 6.0). Differences connected with the presence and distribution of the pectic epitopes between the control and Al-treated roots were observed. In the Al-treated roots, pectins with galactan sidechains were detected with a visually lower fluorescence intensity than in the control roots while pectins with arabinan sidechains were abundantly present. Furthermore, esterified homogalacturonans (HGs) were present with a visually higher fluorescence intensity compared to the control, while methyl-esterified HGs were present in a similar amount. Based on the presented results, it was concluded that methyl-esterified HG can be a marker for newly arising cell walls. Additionally, histological changes were detected in the roots grown under Al exposure. Among them, an increase in root diameter, shortening of root cap, and increase in the size of rhizodermal cells and divisions of exodermal and cortex cells were observed. The presented data extend upon the knowledge on the chemical composition of the cell wall of barley root cells under stress conditions. The response of cells to Al can be expressed by the specific distribution of pectins in the cell wall and, thus, enables the knowledge on Al toxicity to be extended by explaining the mechanism by which Al inhibits root elongation.
Keywords: aluminum; barley; cell wall; pectins; root.