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Rapid alterations in growth rate and electrical potentials upon stem excision in pea seedlings

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Excision of the epicotyl base of pea (Pisum sativum L.) seedlings in air results in a fast drop in the growth rate and rapid transient membrane depolarization of the surface cells near the cut. Subsequent immersion of the cut end into solution leads to a rapid, transient rise in the epicotyl growth rate and an acropetally propagating depolarization with an amplitude of about 35 mV and a speed of approx. 1 mm · s−1. The same result can be achieved directly by excision of the pea epicotyl under water. Shape, amplitude and velocity of the depolarization characterize it as a “slow-wave potential”. These results indicate that the propagating depolarization is caused by a surge in water uptake. Neither a second surge in water uptake (measured as a rapid increase in growth rate when the cut end was placed in air and then back into solution) nor another cut can produce the depolarization a second time. Cyanide suppresses the electrical signal at the treated position without inhibiting its transmission through this area and its development in untreated parts of the epicotyl. The large depolarization and repolarization which occur in the epidermal and subepidermal cells are not associated with changes in cell input resistance. Both results indicate that it is a transient shut-down of the plasma-membrane proton pump rather than large ion fluxes which is causing the depolarization. We conclude that the slow wave potential is spread in the stem via a hydraulic surge occurring upon relief of the negative xylem pressure after the hydraulic resistance of the root has been removed by excision.

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growth rate

Px :

xylem pressure

Rin :

cell input resistance


slow wave potential

Vm :

membrane potential

Vs :

surface potential


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This work was supported by grants to D.J.C. from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Stahlberg, R., Cosgrove, D.J. Rapid alterations in growth rate and electrical potentials upon stem excision in pea seedlings. Planta 187, 523–531 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00199972

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Key words

  • Depolarization (growth-induced)
  • Growth rate after excision
  • Membrane potential
  • Pisum (growth and electric potential)
  • Slow wave potential
  • Surface potential