Cell wall polysaccharides in developing barley coleoptiles were examined using acetic acid-nitric acid extraction, alditol acetate and methylation analyses and enzymatic digestion. The coleoptile cell wall from imbibed grain was rich in pectic polysaccharides (30 mol%), arabinoxylan (25 mol%), cellulose (25 mol%) and xyloglucan (6 mol%), but contained only low levels of (1-->3,1-->4)-beta-D-glucan (1 mol%). During 5 days of coleoptile growth, pectic polysaccharides decreased steadily to about 9 mol%, while (1-->3,1-->4)-beta-D-glucan increased to 10 mol%. Following the cessation of growth of the coleoptiles at about 5 days, (1-->3,1-->4)-beta-D-glucan content rapidly decreased to 1 mol%. The cellulose content of the walls remained at about 35-40 mol% throughout coleoptile growth. Similarly, arabinoxylan content remained essentially constant at 25-30 mol% during growth, although the ratio of substituted to unsubstituted 4-linked xylosyl units decreased from about 4:1 to 1:1. Xyloglucan content ranged from 6 mol% to 10 mol% and the oligosaccharide profile determined using a xyloglucan-specific endoglucanase and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry indicated that the oligosaccharides XXGG and XXGGG were the principal components, with one and two acetyl groups, respectively, Thus, dramatic changes in wall composition were detected during the growth of barley coleoptiles, both with respect to the relative abundance of individual wall constituents and to the fine structure of the arabinoxylans.