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Structure-function analysis of the maize bulliform cell cuticle and its role in dehydration and leaf rolling

By Susanne Matschi, Miguel F Vasquez, Richard Bourgault, Paul Steinbach, James Chamness, Nicholas Kaczmar, Michael A Gore, Isabel Molina, Laurie G. Smith

Posted 07 Feb 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.02.06.937011

The cuticle is a hydrophobic layer on the outer surface plant shoots, which serves as an important interaction interface with the environment. It consists of the lipid polymer cutin, embedded with and covered by waxes, and provides protection against stresses including desiccation, UV radiation, and pathogen attack. Bulliform cells form in longitudinal strips on the adaxial leaf surface, and have been implicated in the leaf rolling response observed in drought stressed grass leaves. In this study, we show that bulliform cells of the adult maize leaf epidermis have a specialized cuticle, and we investigate its function along with that of bulliform cells themselves. Analysis of natural variation was used to relate bulliform strip pattering to leaf rolling rate, providing evidence of a role for bulliform cells in leaf rolling. Bulliform cells displayed increased shrinkage compared to other epidermal cell types during dehydration of the leaf, providing a potential mechanism to facilitate leaf rolling. Comparisons of cuticular conductance between adaxial and abaxial leaf surfaces, and between bulliform-enriched mutants vs. wild type siblings, provided evidence that bulliform cells lose water across the cuticle more rapidly than other epidermal cell types. Bulliform cell cuticles have a distinct ultrastructure, and differences in cutin monomer content and composition, compared to other leaf epidermal cells. We hypothesize that this cell type-specific cuticle is more water permeable than the epidermal pavement cell cuticle, facilitating the function of bulliform cells in stress-induced leaf rolling observed in grasses.

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