Cork cells in cork oak periderms undergo programmed cell death and proanthocyanidin deposition

Vera Inácio*, Carolina Lobato, José Graça, Leonor Morais-Cecílio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vascular plants with secondary growth develop a periderm mostly composed of dead suberized cork cells to face environmental hostile conditions. Cork oak has a highly active and long-living phellogen forming a remarkably thick periderm that is periodically debarked for industrial purposes. This wounding originates the quick formation of a new traumatic periderm, making cork oak an exceptional model to study the first periderm differentiation during normal development in young sprigs and traumatic (wound) periderm formation after debarking. Here, we studied the poorly known first periderm differentiation steps that involve cell wall suberization, polyphenolic accumulation and programmed cell death (PCD) by combining transmission electron microscopy, histochemical and molecular methods in periderms from young sprigs. These processes were further compared with traumatic periderms formed after wounding using molecular and histochemical techniques, such as the polyphenolic accumulation. In the first periderms from young sprigs, four distinct differentiation stages were defined according to the presence of PCD morphological features. First young and traumatic periderms showed an upregulation of genes related to suberin biosynthesis, proanthocyanidins biosynthesis and transport, autophagy, and PCD. Traumatic periderms revealed an overall upregulation of these genes, likely resulting from ontogeny differences and distinct phellogen origin associated with a faster metabolism, highlighting the impact of wounding on phellogen activity after debarking. First periderms from young sprigs showed gradual accumulation of proanthocyanidins in the vacuoles throughout PCD stages until total filled lumens, whereas in traumatic periderms, these compounds were found cell wall linked in already empty cells. This work enabled a comprehensive overview of the cork cells differentiation processes contributing to deepening the knowledge of the fundamental ontogenic program of this protective tissue, which is also a unique forest product, constituting the basis of a sustainable and profitable industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1701-1713
Number of pages13
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2021


  • Quercus suber
  • autophagy
  • condensed tannins
  • cork
  • developmental programmed cell death
  • phellogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science

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