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Highly Accessed Open Badges Protein family review

The expansin superfamily

Javier Sampedro and Daniel J Cosgrove*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, 208 Mueller Lab, University Park, PA 16870, USA

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Genome Biology 2005, 6:242  doi:10.1186/gb-2005-6-12-242

Published: 28 November 2005


The expansin superfamily of plant proteins is made up of four families, designated α-expansin, β-expansin, expansin-like A and expansin-like B. α-Expansin and β-expansin proteins are known to have cell-wall loosening activity and to be involved in cell expansion and other developmental events during which cell-wall modification occurs. Proteins in these two families bind tightly to the cell wall and their activity is typically assayed by their stimulation of cell-wall extension and stress relaxation; no bona fide enzymatic activity has been detected for these proteins. α-Expansin proteins and some, but not all, β-expansin proteins are implicated as catalysts of 'acid growth', the enlargement of plant cells stimulated by low extracellular pH. A divergent group of β-expansin genes are expressed at high levels in the pollen of grasses but not of other plant groups. They probably function to loosen maternal cell walls during growth of the pollen tube towards the ovary. All expansins consist of two domains; domain 1 is homologous to the catalytic domain of proteins in the glycoside hydrolase family 45 (GH45); expansin domain 2 is homologous to group-2 grass pollen allergens, which are of unknown biological function. Experimental evidence suggests that expansins loosen cell walls via a nonenzymatic mechanism that induces slippage of cellulose microfibrils in the plant cell wall.