Cell biology of the leaf epidermis: Fate specification, morphogenesis, and coordination

As the outermost layer of plants, the epidermis serves as a critical interface between plants and the environment. During leaf development, the differentiation of specialized epidermal cell types, including stomatal guard cells, pavement cells, and trichomes, occurs simultaneously, each providing unique and pivotal functions for plant growth and survival. Decades of molecular-genetic and physiological studies have unraveled key players and hormone signaling specifying epidermal differentiation. However, most studies focus on only one cell type at a time, and how these distinct cell types coordinate as a unit is far from well-comprehended. Here we provide a review on the current knowledge of regulatory mechanisms underpinning the fate specification, differentiation, morphogenesis, and positioning of these specialized cell types. Emphasis is given to their shared developmental origins, fate flexibility, as well as cell cycle and hormonal controls. Furthermore, we discuss computational modeling approaches to integrate how mechanical properties of individual epidermal cell types and entire tissue/organ properties mutually influence each other. We hope to illuminate the underlying mechanisms coordinating the cell differentiation that ultimately generate a functional leaf epidermis.