Microscopy and Microanalysis

Biological Applications

Multi-Scale Visualization of Dynamic Changes in Poplar Cell Walls During Alkali Pretreatment

Zhe Jia1, Jianfeng Maa1 and Feng Xua1 c1 p1

a1 Beijing Key Laboratory of Lignocellulosic Chemistry, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083, China


Alkali pretreatment is a promising pretreatment technology that can effectively deconstruct plant cell walls to enhance sugar release performance. In this study, multi-scale visualization of dynamic changes in poplar cell walls during sodium hydroxide pretreatment (2% w/v, 121°C) was carried out by light microscopy (LM), confocal Raman microscopy (CRM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). LM observations indicated that swelling occurred primarily in the secondary wall (S) but alkali had little effect on the cell corner middle lamella (CCML). Correspondingly, there was a preferential delignification in the S at the beginning of pretreatment, while the level of delignification in CCML (~88%) was higher than that in the S (~83%) for the whole process revealed by Raman spectra. It also suggested that prolonging residence time to 180 min would not remove lignin completely but cause rapid loss of carbohydrates, which was further visualized by Raman spectroscopy images. Furthermore, AFM measurements illustrated that pretreatment with alkali exposed the embedded microfibrils from noncellulosic polymers clearly, enlarged the diameter of microfibrils, and decreased the surface porosity. These results suggested that there was a synergistic mechanism of lignocellulose deconstruction regarding cell wall swelling, main components dissolution, and microfibril morphological changes that occurred during alkali pretreatment.

(Received August 22 2013)

(Accepted January 05 2014)

Key words

  • poplar cell wall;
  • alkali pretreatment;
  • confocal Raman microscopy;
  • atomic force microscopy;
  • lignin


c1 Corresponding author. xfx315@bjfu.edu.cn

p1 Current address: Beijing Key Laboratory of Lignocellulosic Chemistry, Beijing Forestry University, 100083 Tsinghua East Road, Beijing, China.