Salt stress induces the formation of a novel type of ‘pressure wood’ in two Populus species


Author for correspondence:
Andrea Polle
Tel: +49 551393480


  • Salinity causes osmotic stress and limits biomass production of plants. The goal of this study was to investigate mechanisms underlying hydraulic adaptation to salinity.
  • Anatomical, ecophysiological and transcriptional responses to salinity were investigated in the xylem of a salt-sensitive (Populus × canescens) and a salt-tolerant species (Populus euphratica).
  • Moderate salt stress, which suppressed but did not abolish photosynthesis and radial growth in P. × canescens, resulted in hydraulic adaptation by increased vessel frequencies and decreased vessel lumina. Transcript abundances of a suite of genes (FLA, COB-like, BAM, XET, etc.) previously shown to be activated during tension wood formation, were collectively suppressed in developing xylem, whereas those for stress and defense-related genes increased. A subset of cell wall-related genes was also suppressed in salt-exposed P. euphratica, although this species largely excluded sodium and showed no anatomical alterations. Salt exposure influenced cell wall composition involving increases in the lignin : carbohydrate ratio in both species.
  • In conclusion, hydraulic stress adaptation involves cell wall modifications reciprocal to tension wood formation that result in the formation of a novel type of reaction wood in upright stems named ‘pressure wood’. Our data suggest that transcriptional co-regulation of a core set of genes determines reaction wood composition.