Journal Article

Further Examination of Abscission Zone Cells as Ethylene Target Cells in Higher Plants

Michael T. McManus

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 101, issue 2, pages 285-292
Published in print January 2008 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2007 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Further Examination of Abscission Zone Cells as Ethylene Target Cells in Higher Plants

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
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Background and Aims

Two aspects of the competence of abscission zone cells as a specific class of hormone target cell are examined. The first is the competence of these target cells to respond to a remote stele-generated signal, and whether ethylene acts in concert with this signal to initiate abscission of the primary leaf in Phaseolus vulgaris. The second is to extend the concept of dual control of abscission cell competence. Can the concept of developmental memory that is retained by abscission cell of Phaseolus vulgaris post-separation in terms of the inductive/repressive control of β-1,4-glucan endohydrolase (cellulase) activity exerted by ethylene/auxin be extended to the rachis abscission zone cells of Sambucus nigra?


Abscission assays were performed using the leaf petiole–pulvinus explants of P. vulgaris with the distal pulvinus stele removed. These (–stele) explants do not separate when treated with ethylene and require a stele-generated signal from the distal pulvinus for separation at the leaf petiole–pulvinis abscission zone. Using these explants, the role of ethylene was examined, using the ethylene action blocker, 1-methyl cyclopropene, as well as the significance of the tissue from which the stele signal originates. Further, leaf rachis abscission explants were excised from the compound leaves of S. nigra, and changes in the activity of cellulase in response to added ethylene and auxin post-separation was examined.

Key Results

The use of (–stele) explants has confirmed that ethylene, with the stele-generated signal, is essential for abscission. Neither ethylene alone nor the stelar signal alone is sufficient. Further, in addition to the leaf pulvinus distal to the abscission zone, mid-rib tissue that is excised from senescent or green mid-rib tissue can also generate a competent stelar signal. Experiments with rachis abscission explants of S. nigra have shown that auxin, when added to cells post-separation can retard cellulase activity, with activity re-established with subsequent ethylene treatment.


The triggers that initiate and regulate the separation process are complex with, in bean leaves at least, the generation of a signal (or signals) from remote tissues, in concert with ethylene, a requisite part of the process. Once evoked, abscission cells maintain a developmental memory such that the induction/repression mediated by ethylene/auxin that is observed prior to separation is also retained by the cells post-separation.

Keywords: Phaseolus vulgaris; Sambucus nigra; abscission; auxin; β-1,4-glucan endohydrolase (cellulase); ethylene; target cells

Journal Article.  6521 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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