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J Exp Bot. 2014 Mar;65(3):779-87. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ert335. Epub 2013 Oct 22.

Glutamate signalling in roots.

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Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YQ, UK.


As a signalling molecule, glutamate is best known for its role as a fast excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian nervous system, a role that requires the activity of a family of ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs). The unexpected discovery in 1998 that Arabidopsis thaliana L. possesses a family of iGluR-related (GLR) genes laid the foundations for an assessment of glutamate's potential role as a signalling molecule in plants that is still in progress. Recent advances in elucidating the function of Arabidopsis GLR receptors has revealed similarities with iGluRs in their channel properties, but marked differences in their ligand specificities. The ability of plant GLR receptors to act as amino-acid-gated Ca(2+) channels with a broad agonist profile, combined with their expression throughout the plant, makes them strong candidates for a multiplicity of amino acid signalling roles. Although root growth is inhibited in the presence of a number of amino acids, only glutamate elicits a specific sequence of changes in growth, root tip morphology, and root branching. The recent finding that the MEKK1 gene is a positive regulator of glutamate sensitivity at the root tip has provided genetic evidence for the existence in plants of a glutamate signalling pathway analogous to those found in animals. This short review will discuss the most recent advances in understanding glutamate signalling in roots, considering them in the context of previous work in plants and animals.


Amino acids; MAP kinase; MEKK1; glutamate receptors; lateral roots; natural variation; root system architecture.

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