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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Mechanical stress in Arabidopsis leaves orients microtubules in a 'continuous’ supracellular pattern

Eveline Jacques, Jean-Pierre Verbelen and Kris Vissenberg*

Author Affiliations

Department Biology, Plant Growth and Development, University of Antwerp, Groenenborgerlaan 171, 2020 Antwerpen, Belgium

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:163  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-163

Published: 18 October 2013



Cortical microtubules form a dynamic network and continuously undergo shrinking (catastrophe), pausing and rebuilding (rescue). The advantage of such a dynamic system is that it may mediate appropriate responses in a short time span. Microtubules are known to play a pivotal role in determining the orientation of the cellulose microfibril deposition in the plant cell wall. The latter is a solid exoskeleton surrounding the protoplast. It forms the physical framework that interconnects most cells and has to bear the tensile stresses within the tissue. Here we describe the effect of externally applied pressure on microtubule organization in growing Arabidopsis leaves.


Confocal microscopy examination of transgenic plants bearing GFP-tagged TUA6 proteins led to the observation that application of an additional mechanical pressure on growing Arabidopsis leaves triggers an excessive bundling of microtubules within the individual cell. Besides, the microtubules seem to align in neighboring cells, creating a 'continuous’ supracellular pattern. This effect occurs within 3 hours after applied external force and is age-dependent, whereby only cells of leaves up to 19 days after sowing (DAS) are susceptible to the applied pressure.


Upon externally applied pressure on developing Arabidopsis leaves, microtubules bundle and rearrange to form seemingly continuous supracellular patterns. As microtubules guide the cellulose synthase complexes, this observed reorganisation pattern probably affects the cellulose deposition, contributing to the reinforcement of the cell wall in a particular position to cope with the extra-applied pressure. The age-effect is reasonable, since younger cells, which are actively shaping their cell walls, are more vulnerable to altered mechanical stresses while in leaves older than 19 DAS, the walls are more robust and therefore can sustain the applied forces.

Arabidopsis thaliana; Cell development; Leaf; Mechanical stress; Microtubules