, Volume 215, Issue 1–4, pp 150–171 | Cite as

On the alignment of cellulose microfibrils by cortical microtubules: A review and a model

  • Tobias I. Baskin


The hypothesis that microtubules align microfibrils, termed the alignment hypothesis, states that there is a causal link between the orientation of cortical microtubules and the orientation of nascent microfibrils. I have assessed the generality of this hypothesis by reviewing what is known about the relation between microtubules and microfibrils in a wide group of examples: in algae of the family Characeae,Closterium acerosum, Oocystis solitaria, and certain genera of green coenocytes and in land plant tip-growing cells, xylem, diffusely growing cells, and protoplasts. The salient features about microfibril alignment to emerge are as follows. Cellulose microfibrils can be aligned by cortical microtubules, thus supporting the alignment hypothesis. Alignment of microfibrils can occur independently of microtubules, showing that an alternative to the alignment hypothesis must exist. Microfibril organization is often random, suggesting that self-assembly is insufficient. Microfibril organization differs on different faces of the same cell, suggesting that microfibrils are aligned locally, not with respect to the entire cell. Nascent microfibrils appear to associate tightly with the plasma membrane. To account for these observations, I present a model that posits alignment to be mediated through binding the nascent microfibril. The model, termed templated incorporation, postulates that the nascent microfibril is incorporated into the cell wall by binding to a scaffold that is oriented; further, the scaffold is built and oriented around either already incorporated microfibrils or plasma membrane proteins, or both. The role of cortical microtubules is to bind and orient components of the scaffold at the plasma membrane. In this way, spatial information to align the microfibrils may come from either the cell wall or the cell interior, and microfibril alignment with and without microtubules are subsets of a single mechanism.


Cell polarity Cell wall Cellulose microfibril orientation Cortical microtubule Templated incorporation 


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© Springer-Verlag 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tobias I. Baskin
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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