Xylem parenchyma cell walls lack a gravitropic response in conifer compression wood


Main conclusion

Cell wall fluorescence and immunocytochemistry demonstrate that xylem parenchyma cell walls do not show changes in structure and composition related to gravitropic response comparable to those of tracheids, even when they have lignified secondary cell walls.

Tracheid cell walls in compression wood have altered composition and structure which generates the strain responsible for correction of stem lean as part of the gravitropic response of woody plants. Xylem parenchyma cell walls vary among conifer species and can be lignified secondary walls (spruce) or unlignified primary walls (pine). It can be expected that xylem parenchyma with lignified secondary cell walls might show features of compression wood comparable to those of tracheids that have a similar type of cell wall. A comparison of xylem parenchyma cell walls in normal and compression wood in species with lignified and non-lignified parenchyma cell walls provides a unique opportunity to understand the process of reaction wood formation in conifers. Using both UV/visible fluorescence microscopy of cell wall fluorophores and immunocytochemistry of galactan and mannan epitopes, we demonstrate that xylem parenchyma cell walls do not show the changes in composition and structure typical of compression wood tracheids. Adjacent cells of different types but with similar cell wall structure can undergo cell wall developmental changes related to support or defence functions independent of their neighbours. Tracheids are sensitive to gravitropic signals while xylem parenchyma cells are not.

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Formalin aceto-alcohol




Approximate probability density


Normal wood


Compression wood


Resin canal


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This research was partially funded by the Grant ON173017 from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Serbia, and by the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, via Scion Core funding, including sabbaticals for both LAD and KR. The authors are grateful for comments on the manuscript by Alan Dickson and Mark West, Scion.

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Correspondence to Lloyd A. Donaldson.

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Donaldson, L.A., Nanayakkara, B., Radotić, K. et al. Xylem parenchyma cell walls lack a gravitropic response in conifer compression wood. Planta 242, 1413–1424 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-015-2381-6

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  • Compression wood
  • Cell wall
  • Xylem parenchyma
  • Lignification
  • Suberin
  • Galactan
  • Mannan