Vessel-associated cells in angiosperm xylem: highly specialized living cells at the symplast–apoplast boundary

Hugh Morris*, Lenka Plavcová, Mustapha Gorai, Matthias M. Klepsch, Martyna Kotowska, H. Jochen Schenk, Steven Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Vessel-associated cells (VACs) are highly specialized, living parenchyma cells that are in direct contact with water-conducting, dead vessels. The contact may be sparse or in large tight groups of parenchyma that completely surrounds vessels. VACs differ from vessel distant parenchyma in physiology, anatomy, and function and have half-bordered pits at the vessel-parenchyma juncture. The distinct anatomy of VACs is related to the exchange of substances to and from the water-transport system, with the cells long thought to be involved in water transport in woody angiosperms, but where direct experimental evidence is lacking. Scope: This review focuses on our current knowledge of VACs regarding anatomy and function, including hydraulic capacitance, storage of nonstructural carbohydrates, symplastic and apoplastic interactions, defense against pathogens and frost, osmoregulation, and the novel hypothesis of surfactant production. Based on microscopy, we visually represent how VACs vary in dimensions and general appearance between species, with special attention to the protoplast, amorphous layer, and the vessel-parenchyma pit membrane. Conclusions: An understanding of the relationship between VACs and vessels is crucial to tackling questions related to how water is transported over long distances in xylem, as well as defense against pathogens. New avenues of research show how parenchyma-vessel contact is related to vessel diameter and a new hypothesis may explain how surfactants arising from VAC can allow water to travel under negative pressure. We also reinforce the message of connectivity between VAC and other cells between xylem and phloem.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)151-160
    Number of pages10
    JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


    • amorphous layer
    • aquaporin
    • axial parenchyma
    • black cap
    • deep supercooling
    • half-bordered pit
    • pit membrane
    • ray parenchyma
    • water transport
    • xylem


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