The shoot apical meristem: the dynamics of a stable structure

Jan Traas, Teva Vernoux

Abstract

The shoot apical meristem (SAM) is a group of proliferating, embryonic–type cells that generates the aerial parts of the plant. SAMs are highly organized and stable structures that can function for years or even centuries. This is in apparent contradiction to the behaviour of their constituent cells, which continuously proliferate and differentiate. To reconcile the dynamic nature of the cells with the stability of the overall system the existence of elaborate signalling networks has been proposed. This is supported by recent work suggesting that the exchange of signals between cells, rather than a rigidly predetermined genetic program, is required for the establishment and functioning of an organized meristem. Together these interactions form a stable network, set up during embryogenesis, that assures the coordination of cell behaviour throughout development. Besides meristem–specific signalling cascades such as the CLAVATA receptor kinase pathway, which controls meristem size, these interactions involve plant hormones. In particular, cytokinins and auxins are implicated in the maintenance of meristem identity and phyllotaxis, respectively.