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News Release 11-119

Study Reveals Important Aspects of Signalling Across Cell Membranes in Plants

Plant receptors use different signalling method than do animal receptors

Illustration showing transmembrane signaling in a plant cell aided by a steroid.

Transmembrane signaling in a plant cell aided by a steroid.


June 14, 2011

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Every living plant cell and animal cell is surrounded by a membrane. These cellular membranes contain receptor molecules that serve as the cell's eyes and ears, and help it communicate with other cells and with the outside world.

The receptor molecules accomplish three basic things in the communication process: 1) recognize an outside signal, 2) transport that signal across the cell's membrane and 3) initiate the reading of the signal inside the cell and then initiate the cell's response to that signal. These steps are collectively known as transmembrane signaling.

Transmembrane signaling in animal cells has been significantly more studied and observed than that in plant cells. But now, with support from the National Science Foundation, researchers from Joanne Chory's laboratory at the Salk Institute have published new observations about transmembrane signaling in plants; their paper appears in the June 12, 2011, advanced online edition of Nature.

According to the study, transmembrane signaling mechanisms used by plants differ from those used by animals. Specifically, Michael Hothorn of the Salk Institute reports that a small steroid molecule on the outside of the plant cell assists in the transmembrane signaling process. By contrast, this sort of molecule and its receptor is generally located inside the nuclei of animal cells.

While studying transmembrane signaling in plants, Hothorn and colleagues observed the steroid, shown in yellow, attach to a membrane-bound receptor, shown in blue. This attachment enabled the steroid's counterpart--a co-receptor protein, shown in orange--to bind to the blue receptor. Once bound, the orange co-receptor and the blue receptor become glued together by the yellow steroid, allowing their intracellular domains to touch and initiate communication.

In the case observed by Hothorn, transmembrane signaling initiated plant growth.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Stacie Spector, Salk Institute, (858) 453-4100, email: sspector@salk.edu
Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8310, email: lwhitema@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
Michael Mishkind, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8413, email: mmishkin@nsf.gov

Co-Investigators
Michael Hothorn, Salk Institute, (858) 453-4100, email: mhothorn@salk.edu

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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