Electrostatic effects and the dynamics of enzyme reactions at the surface of plant cells

2. The role of pectin methyl esterase in the modulation of electrostatic effects in soybean cell walls


Correspondence to J. Ricard, Centre de Biochimie et de Biologie Moléculaire du CNRS, Boîte postale 71, F-13402 Marseille Cedex 9, France


The pectin methyl esterase from soybean cell walls has been isolated and purified to homogeneity. It is a protein with a relative molecular mass close to 33 000. The enzyme is maximally active at a pH close to 8 and its pH dependence may be explained by a classical Dixon model, where the two interconvertible enzyme ionization states coexist.

The outflux of protons from cell walls, upon raising the ionic strength, may be taken as an indirect estimate of the fixed charge density. If the cell-wall fragments are pre-incubated at pH values between 5 and 9, the outflux of protons rises with the pH of pre-incubation. This implies, as postualted from the theory developed in the preceding paper, that alkaline pH favours the activity of pectin methyl esterase and that this enzyme effectively generates the fixed negative charges of the cell wall. Therefore the pectin methyl esterase reaction builds up the Donnan potential, ΔΨ, at the cell surface.

The cell-wall charge density, estimated from the proton outflux, as well as from the titration of methyl groups on the cell wall, reaches a maximum between the third and the fourth day of growth. While the cell-wall volume increases and reaches a plateau, the fixed charge density increases at first and then declines. This is understandable if one assumes that the building up of a high charge density is a co-operative phenomenon and that the local pH inside the wall rises during cell growth. When both the cell-wall volume and the charge density increase together, this suggests that the local pH inside the wall lies within the critical pH range associated with the steep response of the system. When the cell-wall volume increases together with a decrease of the fixed charge density, the local pH should have dropped below this critical pH range. Under these conditions the pectin methyl esterase remains inactive, or poorly active.

As the number of fixed negative charges increases, calcium becomes tightly bound to cell walls. This binding is so tight that the net charge density is minimum when the calcium concentration is maximum.

The experimental results, presented above, offer experimental support to two important ideas discussed in the preceding paper, namely that pectin methyl esterase reaction builds up the Donnan potential at the cell surface, and that this response may be co-operative with respect to pH.