Document Type


Publication Date



College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Leaves provide energy for plants, and consequently for animals, through photosynthesis. Despite their important functions, plant leaf developmental processes and their underlying mechanisms have not been well characterized. Here, we provide a holistic description of leaf developmental processes that is centered on cytokinins and their signaling functions. Cytokinins maintain the growth potential (pluripotency) of shoot apical meristems, which provide stem cells for the generation of leaf primordia during the initial stage of leaf formation; cytokinins and auxins, as well as their interaction, determine the phyllotaxis pattern. The activities of cytokinins in various regions of the leaf, especially at the margins, collectively determine the final leaf morphology (e.g., simple or compound). The area of a leaf is generally determined by the number and size of the cells in the leaf. Cytokinins promote cell division and increase cell expansion during the proliferation and expansion stages of leaf cell development, respectively. During leaf senescence, cytokinins reduce sugar accumulation, increase chlorophyll synthesis, and prolong the leaf photosynthetic period. We also briefly describe the roles of other hormones, including auxin and ethylene, during the whole leaf developmental process. In this study, we review the regulatory roles of cytokinins in various leaf developmental stages, with a focus on cytokinin metabolism and signal transduction processes, in order to shed light on the molecular mechanisms underlying leaf development.

Publisher's Statement

© The Author(s) 2021. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Horticulture Research

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Publisher's PDF



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.