Intercellular adhesion and cell separation in plants


Correspondence: M. C. Jarvis. Fax: +44 (0)141 3304888; e-mail:


Adhesion between plant cells is a fundamental feature of plant growth and development, and an essential part of the strategy by which growing plants achieve mechanical strength. Turgor pressure provides non-woody plant tissues with mechanical rigidity and the driving force for growth, but at the same time it generates large forces tending to separate cells. These are resisted by reinforcing zones located precisely at the points of maximum stress. In dicots the reinforcing zones are occupied by networks of specific pectic polymers. The mechanisms by which these networks cohere vary and are not fully understood. In the Poaceae their place is taken by phenolic cross-linking of arabinoxylans. Whatever the reinforcing polymers, a targeting mechanism is necessary to ensure that they become immobilized at the appropriate location, and there are secretory mutants that appear to have defects in this mechanism and hence are defective in cell adhesion. At the outer surface of most plant parts, the tendency of cells to cohere is blocked, apparently by the cuticle. Mutants with lesions in the biosynthesis of cuticular lipids show aberrant surface adhesion and other developmental abnormalities. When plant cells separate, the polymer networks that join them are locally dismantled with surgical precision. This occurs during the development of intercellular spaces; during the abscission of leaves and floral organs; during the release of seeds and pollen; during differentiation of root cap cells; and during fruit ripening. Each of these cell separation processes has its own distinctive features. Cell separation can also be induced during cooking or processing of fruit and vegetables, and the degree to which it occurs is a significant quality characteristic in potatoes, pulses, tomatoes, apples and other fruit. Control over these technological characteristics will be facilitated by understanding the role of cell adhesion and separation in the life of plants.