Cell Biology

Internal communication in plants

José Feijó / University of Maryland Arabidopsis thaliana pollen grains grow toward the ovules more in plants whose GLR receptors are preserved (left) than those with defective receptors (right)José Feijó / University of Maryland

Plant cells communicate with each other by exchanging chemical compounds, similar to the role played by neurons in animal central nervous systems. Neuron surfaces contain molecules called glutamate receptors. When a glutamate neurotransmitter adheres to the receptor, pores in the cell open, allowing calcium to enter, which sends an electrical impulse through the neuron. More glutamate is released at the other end of the cell, passing the information forward. Plants do not have neurons, but their cells are covered by glutamate-like receptors (GLRs). Portuguese biologist José Feijó and his team at the University of Maryland, USA, investigate the effects of GLR activation and the entry of calcium into plant cells. In a study involving Brazilian biologist Daniel Damineli, the scientists found that GLRs must be activated in order to guide the male reproductive cell to the ovule in moss (Nature, July 24, 2017). In another study with Brazilian biologist Maria Teresa Portes, the group observed that these receptors function in association with Cornichon proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana. These proteins control the activity of GLRs and transport them within the cell, ensuring adequate levels of calcium are maintained in each of their compartments (Science, May 4). According to Feijó, the redistribution of GLRs forms a complex network that regulates calcium concentration and controls cell signaling.