• Open Access

Ectopic expression of a wood-abundant expansin PttEXPA1 promotes cell expansion in primary and secondary tissues in aspen


* Correspondence (fax +46 90 7868165; e-mail ewa.mellerowicz@genfys.slu.se; bjorn.sundberg@genfys.slu.se)

Present address: Department of Biology, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, QC, Canada, H4B 1R6


Expansins are primary agents inducing cell wall extension, and are therefore obvious targets in biotechnological applications aimed at the modification of cell size in plants. In trees, increased fibre length is a goal of both breeding and genetic engineering programmes. We used an α-expansin PttEXPA1 that is highly abundant in the wood-forming tissues of hybrid aspen (Populus tremula L. × P. tremuloides Michx.) to evaluate its role in fibre elongation and wood cell development. PttEXPA1 belongs to Subfamily A of α-expansins that have conserved motifs at the N- and C-termini of the mature protein. When PttEXPA1 was over-expressed in aspen, an extract of the cell wall-bound proteins of the transgenic plants exhibited an increased expansin activity on cellulose–xyloglucan composites in vitro, indicating that PttEXPA1 is an active expansin. The transgenic lines exhibited increased stem internode elongation and leaf expansion, and larger cell sizes in the leaf epidermis, indicating that PttEXPA1 protein is capable of increasing the growth of these organs by enhancing cell wall expansion in planta. Wood cell development was also modified in the transgenic lines, but the effects were different for vessel elements and fibres, the two main cell types of aspen wood. PttEXPA1 stimulated fibre, but not vessel element, diameter growth, and marginally increased vessel element length, but did not affect fibre length. The observed differences in responsiveness to expansin of these cell types are discussed in the light of differences in their growth strategies and cell wall composition.