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July 29, 2021

from Washington University in St. Louis

Tiny tunnels through the cell membrane help the cells to perceive mechanical forces such as pressure or touch and to react to them. A new study in the journal Science is one of the first to look directly at what some type of these mechanosensitive ion channels do and how in the cells growing at the tips of the moss and pollen tubes of flowering plants.

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Biologists working with Elizabeth Haswell from Washington University in St. Louis discovered that in plant cells, unlike in animal cells, so-called PIEZO channels are not found along the plasma membrane.

Instead, they observed that PIEZO channels are located retreated into the plant cell, an unexpected discovery. PIEZO channels are located deeper in the cell, in the membranes of vacuoles – the large, intracellular organelles that help maintain cell turgor and perform a number of other functions in the plant cell.

“PIEZO channels in plants play a dramatic and crucial role in regulating the shape of the vacuole and the amount of the membrane, “said Haswell, Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Simons Faculty Scholar.

” This is the first example for PIEZO channels involved in regulating organelle morphology, “she said. “The data we have presented could lead to new lines of investigation for both plant and animal PIEZO homologs.”

As the name suggests, mechanosensitive ion channels are pathways or tunnels through cell membranes that respond to mechanical forces. Under certain forces, a channel opens that allows ions to flow through the membrane.

In humans, PIEZO channels are vital; without it, cell development stops. They are known for their role in the perception of light touch, shear forces, and pressure forces. Dysfunction in PIEZO channels has been linked to several human diseases.

PIEZO channels were first identified in plant genomes in 2010. After a decade of research by animal homologists, this new research is putting plant cells in the spotlight and examining how they differ from animal cells. Other research teams have recently shown that PIEZO channels are involved in mechanical perception in plant roots.

The researchers made their first discoveries with the cells of a somewhat atypical model plant, the spreading earth moss (Physcomitrium patens).

But the scientists were able to extend their findings beyond moss to cells of other distantly related plants, including in pollen tubes in a classic model, the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

“Mosses are one of the groups that make up the Mosses exist, which are the second largest land line, “said Ivan Radin, researcher at Haswell’s laboratory and first author of the new paper.

” If we can show that the same thing happens to both moss and a flowering plant as we do did it here, the most likely conclusion is that the process is ancestral – it is at least as old as d he land plants, “Radin said that land plants colonized the earth about half a billion years ago.

Radin became the de facto moss specialist at Haswell Laboratory with coaching from co-author Magdalena Bezanilla, professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth University. Previously, Bezanilla worked with Washington University dean emeritus Ralph Quatrano and Spencer T. Olin professor emeritus of biology, an early adopter of moss. “The more time goes by, the more we love it,” said Radin. “Moss turned out to be an exceptionally good model.”

As the next step in this research, scientists from the Haswell laboratory are now carrying out additional experiments to show how external and internal forces act directly on PIEZO channels in moss cells. </ "Plant PIEZO channels are probably controlled by membrane tension in plants as they are in animals," Haswell said. The scientists are also studying the development of these channels in algae.

Now they know where the PIEZO channels are in the cell. Haswell and her team want to find out what these proteins do in the vacuoles.

“We are investigating how the activation of the PIEZO channel leads to membrane formation and how it is regulated,” said Haswell. “We want to know how the localization developed and what it does in other cell types. We plan to compare and contrast the structure and function with the animal channels and in organisms of the green line.”

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