Temporal integration of auxin information for the regulation of patterning

Elife. 2020 May 7:9:e55832. doi: 10.7554/eLife.55832.


Positional information is essential for coordinating the development of multicellular organisms. In plants, positional information provided by the hormone auxin regulates rhythmic organ production at the shoot apex, but the spatio-temporal dynamics of auxin gradients is unknown. We used quantitative imaging to demonstrate that auxin carries high-definition graded information not only in space but also in time. We show that, during organogenesis, temporal patterns of auxin arise from rhythmic centrifugal waves of high auxin travelling through the tissue faster than growth. We further demonstrate that temporal integration of auxin concentration is required to trigger the auxin-dependent transcription associated with organogenesis. This provides a mechanism to temporally differentiate sites of organ initiation and exemplifies how spatio-temporal positional information can be used to create rhythmicity.

Keywords: A. thaliana; Auxin; developmental biology; plant biology; shoot apical meristem.

Plain language summary

Plants, like animals and many other multicellular organisms, control their body architecture by creating organized patterns of cells. These patterns are generally defined by signal molecules whose levels differ across the tissue and change over time. This tells the cells where they are located in the tissue and therefore helps them know what tasks to perform. A plant hormone called auxin is one such signal molecule and it controls when and where plants produce new leaves and flowers. Over time, this process gives rise to the dashing arrangements of spiraling organs exhibited by many plant species. The leaves and flowers form from a relatively small group of cells at the tip of a growing stem known as the shoot apical meristem. Auxin accumulates at precise locations within the shoot apical meristem before cells activate the genes required to make a new leaf or flower. However, the precise role of auxin in forming these new organs remained unclear because the tools to observe the process in enough detail were lacking. Galvan-Ampudia, Cerutti et al. have now developed new microscopy and computational approaches to observe auxin in a small plant known as Arabidopsis thaliana. This showed that dozens of shoot apical meristems exhibited very similar patterns of auxin. Images taken over a period of several hours showed that the locations where auxin accumulated were not fixed on a group of cells but instead shifted away from the center of the shoot apical meristems faster than the tissue grew. This suggested the cells experience rapidly changing levels of auxin. Further experiments revealed that the cells needed to be exposed to a high level of auxin over time to activate genes required to form an organ. This mechanism sheds a new light on how auxin regulates when and where plants make new leaves and flowers. The tools developed by Galvan-Ampudia, Cerutti et al. could be used to study the role of auxin in other plant tissues, and to investigate how plants regulate the response to other plant hormones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Biosensing Techniques
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Indoleacetic Acids / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Organogenesis, Plant* / genetics
  • Plant Growth Regulators / metabolism*
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / growth & development
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / metabolism*
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Indoleacetic Acids
  • Plant Growth Regulators