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J Exp Bot. 2016 Jan;67(2):463-76. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erv511. Epub 2015 Nov 25.

Plant cell wall extensibility: connecting plant cell growth with cell wall structure, mechanics, and the action of wall-modifying enzymes.

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Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Lab, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA


The advent of user-friendly instruments for measuring force/deflection curves of plant surfaces at high spatial resolution has resulted in a recent outpouring of reports of the 'Young's modulus' of plant cell walls. The stimulus for these mechanical measurements comes from biomechanical models of morphogenesis of meristems and other tissues, as well as single cells, in which cell wall stress feeds back to regulate microtubule organization, auxin transport, cellulose deposition, and future growth directionality. In this article I review the differences between elastic modulus and wall extensibility in the context of cell growth. Some of the inherent complexities, assumptions, and potential pitfalls in the interpretation of indentation force/deflection curves are discussed. Reported values of elastic moduli from surface indentation measurements appear to be 10- to >1000-fold smaller than realistic tensile elastic moduli in the plane of plant cell walls. Potential reasons for this disparity are discussed, but further work is needed to make sense of the huge range in reported values. The significance of wall stress relaxation for growth is reviewed and connected to recent advances and remaining enigmas in our concepts of how cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectins are assembled to make an extensible cell wall. A comparison of the loosening action of α-expansin and Cel12A endoglucanase is used to illustrate two different ways in which cell walls may be made more extensible and the divergent effects on wall mechanics.


Atomic force microscopy; Cel12A endoglucanase; Young’s modulus of elasticity.; cell growth; cell wall; expansin; extensibility; indentation modulus

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