Soybean cell walls display a process of autolysis which results in the release of reducing sugars from the walls. Loosening and autolysis of cell wall are involved in the cell-wall growth process, for autolysis is maximum during both cell extension and cell-wall synthesis. Autolysis goes to completion within about 50 h and is an enzymatic process that results from the activity of cell wall exo-and endo-glycosyltransferases. The optimum pH of autolysis is about 5.
Increasing the ionic strength of the bulk phase where cell-wall fragments are suspended, results in a shift of the pH profile towards low pH. This is consistent with the view that at ‘low’ ionic strength, the local pH in the cell wall is lower than in the bulk phase.
One of the main ideas of the model proposed in a preceding paper, is that pectin methyl esterase reaction, by building up a high fixed charge density, results in proton attraction in the wall. Low pH must then activate the wall loosening enzymes involved in autolysis and cell growth. This view may be directly confirmed experimentally. The pH of a cell-wall suspension, initially equal to 5, was brought to 8 for 20 min, then back to 5. Under these conditions, the rate of cell-wall autolysis was enhanced with respect to the rate of autolysis obtained with cell-wall fragments kept at pH 5.
The pH response of the multienzyme plant cell-wall system basically relies on opposite pH sensitivities of the two types of enzymes involved in the growth process. Pectin methyl esterase, which generates the cell-wall Donnan potential, is inhibited by protons, whereas the wall-loosening enzymes involved in cell growth are activated by protons.