The study of pectin methylesterase and wall-loosening enzyme activities in situ, as well as the estimation of the electrostatic potential of the cell wall, suggest a coherent picture of the role played by metal ions and pH in cell-wall extension. Cell-wall growth brings about a decrease of local proton concentration because the electrostatic potential difference (delta psi) of the wall decreases. This in turn activates pectin methylesterase, which restores the initial delta psi value. This process is amplified by the attraction of metal ions in the polyanionic cell-wall matrix. The amplification process is basically due to the release of enzyme molecules that were initially bound to ‘blocks’ of carboxy groups. This increase of metal-ion concentration also results in the activation of wall-loosening enzymes. Moreover, the apparent ‘inhibition’ of pectin methylesterase by high salt concentrations may be considered as a device which prevents the electrostatic potential from becoming too high.

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