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J Exp Bot. 1997 Mar;48 Spec No:421-30. doi: 10.1093/jxb/48.Special_Issue.421.

Function and regulation of seed aquaporins.

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1
Institut des Sciences Végétales, CNRS, Avenue de la Terrasse, F-91198 Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

Abstract

The discovery of water channel proteins named aquaporins has shed new light on the molecular mechanisms of transmembrane water transport in higher plants. As with their animal counterparts, plant aquaporins belong to the large MIP family of transmembrane channels. An increasing number of aquaporins is now being identified on both the vacuolar and plasma membranes of plant cells, but their integrated function remains unclear. Aquaporin α-TIP is specifically expressed in the membrane of protein storage vacuoles in seeds of many plant species. α-TIP was previously shown to undergo phosphorylation in bean seeds. The functional significance of this process was further investigated after heterologous expression of the protein in Xenopus oocytes. Using site-directed mutagenesis of α-TIP and in vitro and in vivo phosphorylation by animal cAMP-dependent protein kinase, it is shown that, in oocytes, direct phosphorylation of α-TIP occurs at three distinct sites and stimulates its water channel activity. In addition to aquaporin phosphorylation, other mechanisms that target aquaporin function are used by living cells to regulate their membrane water permeability. These are the fine control of aquaporin gene expression and, in animal cells only, the regulated trafficking of water channel-containing vesicles. The present work and studies by others on the phosphorylation of nodulin-26, an ion channel protein homologous to α-TIP, provide novel insights into the mechanisms of plant membrane protein regulation. These studies might help identifying and characterizing novel membrane-bound protein kinases and phosphatases. Finally, an integrated function for seed vacuolar aquaporins is discussed. During germination, the rehydration of seed cells, the drastic changes in vacuole morphology, the breakdown and the mobilization of storage products from the vacuole may create osmotic perturbations in the cytoplasm. The fine tuning of TIP aquaporin activity may help control the kinetics and amplitude of osmotic water flows across the tonoplast to achieve proper cytoplasm osmoregulation and control of vacuolar volume.

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