Asymmetric cell division is essential in many organisms to generate cell diversity and tissue patterns and to maintain pools of stem cells. In plants and multicellular algae, asymmetric cell division is of particular importance, as their post-embryonic growth is based on de novo formation of cell types, tissues and even entirely new organs.
Daughter cells, which can be initially equivalent or different in size and/or molecular composition, can achieve different cell fates through intrinsic or extrinsic factors that convey positional information. These seemingly distinct mechanisms can rarely be separated, and it is becoming clear that every asymmetric cell division depends on both extrinsic and intrinsic factors simultaneously.
Asymmetric cell division in plants involves numerous steps: specification of a subset of cells that will undergo asymmetric cell division; cellular events (such as establishment of polarity, polar localization of proteins, establishment of gradients, correct positioning of the nucleus, polar accumulation of the cytoplasm and formation of the preprophase band, spindle and cell plate); and the asymmetrical distribution and expression of cell fate determinants. Together, these control the identity and future development of both daughter cells into a differentiated tissue or new organ. However, not all steps are necessarily present in every asymmetric cell division process.
In animals, the cell cycle has been linked to asymmetric localization of cell fate determinants and, consistently, the regulation of asymmetric cell division needs to be precisely coordinated with cell cycle progression in plants as well.
Various developmental processes require asymmetric cell division and use similar, or even the same, mechanisms and/or conserved molecular players.
Asymmetric cell division generates two cells with different fates and has an important role in plant development. It produces distinct cell types and new organs, and maintains stem cell niches. To handle the constraints of having immobile cells, plants possess numerous unique features to obtain asymmetry, such as specific regulators of intrinsic polarity. Although several components have not yet been identified, new findings, together with knowledge from different developmental systems, now allow us to take an important step towards a mechanistic overview of asymmetric cell division in plants and algae. Strikingly, several key regulators are used for different developmental processes, and common mechanisms can be recognized.
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We thank G. Den Herder, D. Van Damme and two anonymous referees for critical reading of the manuscript and useful suggestions, W. Grunewald, L. Smith, R. Quatrano, D. Twell, M. F. Njo, R. De Rycke and J. Dong for providing pictures and G. Van Isterdael for preparing the figures. We apologize to those colleagues whose work could not be included because of space restrictions. This work was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK (BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship to I.D.S.); the Research Foundation — Flanders, Belgium (postdoctoral fellowship to I.D.S.); and grants from the Interuniversity Attraction Poles Programme (P6/33 and P5/13), initiated by the Belgian State Science Policy Office (BELSPO).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
- Stem cell niche
The environment that provides signals and physical support to maintain stem cells.
- Preprophase band
A modification of the plant cortical cytoskeleton in cells preparing to divide, consisting of a ring of actin and microtubules that transiently marks the plane of cell division.
A developing pollen grain (male gametophyte) at the uninucleate stage within the microsporangia of the stamen in seed plants.
- Thallic tissue
The body of an alga (thallus).
- Rhizoid tissue
A branching, filamentous, root-like extension by which algae can attach to a substrate and absorb water and nutrients.
A terminally differentiated embryonic cell file that connects the embryo to surrounding tissues during early seed development.
The uppermost cell of the basal lineage, called the suspensor, which will give rise to the root meristem.
- Dermatogen stage
The embryonic stage during which tangential cell divisions occur, creating tissue layers following the octant stage.
The outer layer that will become the epidermis.
A structure in the epidermis of aerial organs that balances gas exchange and water loss.
- Anticlinal cell division
A division at a right angle to the surface of an organ or plant part.
The outermost tissue of the stele (that is, the central column of vascular and supporting tissues), which lies underneath the endodermis.
A strand of meristematic stem cells that give rise to the vasculature.
- Periclinal division
A type of cell division that occurs parallel to an adjacent layer of cells and/or to the surface of a plant part.
- Symplastic movement
Movement through the continuous connection of cytoplasm through plasmodesmata.
- Auxin response factor
A transcription factor that regulates auxin-responsive gene expression, the activity of which is repressed upon heterodimerization with AUXIN/INDOLE-3-ACETIC ACID repressor proteins.
A plant hormone that regulates various aspects of plant growth and development.
- Lateral root founder cell
A pericycle cell that initiates lateral root primordia.
The first-formed xylem that develops from the procambium.
- PAR–aPKC complex
(Partitioning defective–atypical protein kinase C complex). Part of an evolutionarily conserved molecular cassette, which has fundamental roles in cell polarity and many other biological contexts in animals.
- Female gametophyte
A multicellular haploid structure that develops into an embryo and endosperm after fertilization.
- Silica cell
A short cell that posseses a silica body (phytolith) in the epidermis of grasses.
A plant-specific cytoskeletal structure that consists of two sets of parallel microtubules and actin filaments, between which the cell plate forms by transport of cell-plate forming vesicles to the centre.
(SKP1–cullin–F-box). A ubiquitin protein ligase complex that functions in protein degradation.
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De Smet, I., Beeckman, T. Asymmetric cell division in land plants and algae: the driving force for differentiation. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 12, 177–188 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrm3064
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