Pectin methylesterase selectively softens the onion epidermal wall yet reduces acid-induced creep

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De-esterification of homogalacturonan (HG) is thought to stiffen pectin gels and primary cell walls by increasing calcium cross-linking between HG chains. Contrary to this idea, recent studies found that HG de-esterification correlated with reduced stiffness of living tissues, measured by surface indentation. The physical basis of such apparent wall softening is unclear, but possibly involves complex biological responses to HG modification. To assess the direct physical consequences of HG de-esterification on wall mechanics without such complications, we treated isolated onion (Allium cepa) epidermal walls with pectin methylesterase (PME) and assessed wall biomechanics with indentation and tensile tests. In nanoindentation assays, PME action softened the wall (reduced the indentation modulus). In tensile force/extension assays, PME increased plasticity, but not elasticity. These softening effects are attributed, at least in part, to increased electrostatic repulsion and swelling of the wall after PME treatment. Despite softening and swelling upon HG de-esterification, PME treatment alone failed to induce cell wall creep. Instead, acid-induced creep, mediated by endogenous α-expansin, was reduced. We conclude that HG de-esterification physically softens the onion wall, yet reduces expansin-mediated wall extensibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2629-2640
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of experimental botany
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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