Secondary cell walls, which contain lignin, have traditionally been considered essential for the mechanical strength of the shoot of land plants, whereas pectin, which is a characteristic component of the primary wall, is not considered to be involved in the mechanical support of the plant. Contradicting this conventional knowledge, loss-of-function mutant alleles of Arabidopsis thaliana PECTIN METHYLESTERASE35 (PME35), which encodes a pectin methylesterase, showed a pendant stem phenotype and an increased deformation rate of the stem, indicating that the mechanical strength of the stem was impaired by the mutation. PME35 was expressed specifically in the basal part of the inflorescence stem. Biochemical characterization showed that the activity of pectin methylesterase was significantly reduced in the basal part of the mutant stem. Immunofluorescence microscopy and immunogold electron microscopy analyses using JIM5, JIM7, and LM20 monoclonal antibodies revealed that demethylesterification of methylesterified homogalacturonans in the primary cell wall of the cortex and interfascicular fibers was suppressed in the mutant, but lignified cell walls in the interfascicular and xylary fibers were not affected. These phenotypic analyses indicate that PME35-mediated demethylesterification of the primary cell wall directly regulates the mechanical strength of the supporting tissue.
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