Journal of Experimental Botany;
AUG 1 2019.
Web of Science Citations:
Wood is extensively used as a construction material. Despite increasing knowledge of its mechanical properties, the contribution of the cell-wall matrix polymers to wood mechanics is still not well understood. Previous studies have shown that axial stiffness correlates with lignin content only for cellulose microfibril angles larger than around 20 degrees, while no influence is found for smaller angles. Here, by analysing the wood of poplar with reduced lignin content due to down-regulation of CAFFEOYL SHIKIMATE ESTERASE, we show that lignin content also influences axial stiffness at smaller angles. Micro-tensile tests of the xylem revealed that axial stiffness was strongly reduced in the low-lignin transgenic lines. Strikingly, microfibril angles were around 15 degrees for both wild-type and transgenic poplars, suggesting that cellulose orientation is not responsible for the observed changes in mechanical behavior. Multiple linear regression analysis showed that the decrease in stiffness was almost completely related to the variation in both density and lignin content. We suggest that the influence of lignin content on axial stiffness may gradually increase as a function of the microfibril angle. Our results may help in building up comprehensive models of the cell wall that can unravel the individual roles of the matrix polymers. (AU)