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Planta. 1988 Dec;176(3):307-18. doi: 10.1007/BF00395411.

A morphometric analysis of the phloem-unloading pathway in developing tobacco leaves.

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Section of Plant Biology, Division of Biological Sciences, Cornell University, 14853, Ithaca, NY, USA.


A morphometric analysis of developing leaves of Nicotiana tabacum L. was conducted to determine whether imported photoassimilates could be unloaded by symplastic transport and whether interruption of symplastic transport could account for termination of import. Five classes of veins were recognized, based on numbers of cells in transverse section. Photoassimilate is unloaded primarily from Class III veins in tissue nearing the end of the sink phase of development. Smaller veins (Class IV and V) do not transport or unload photoassimilate in sink tissue because the sieve elements of these veins are immature until after the tissue stops importing. In Class III veins the sieve element-companion cell (SE-CC) complexes are surrounded by phloem parenchyma which abuts the bundle sheath. Along the most obvious unloading route, from SE-CC complex to phloem parenchyma to bundle sheath to mesophyll cells, the frequency of plasmodesmata at each interface increases. To determine whether this pattern of plasmodesmatal contact is consistent with symplastic unloading we first demonstrated, by derivation from Fick's law that the rate of diffusion from a compartment is proportional to a number N which is equal to the ratio of surface area to volume of the compartment multiplied by the frequency of pores (plasmodesmata) which connect it to the next compartment. N was calculated for each compartment within the vein which has the SE-CC complex as its center, and was shown to be statistically the same in all cases except one. These observations are consistent with a symplastic unloading route. As the leaf tissue matures and stops importing, plasmodesmatal frequency along the unloading route decreases and contact area between cells also decreases as intercellular spaces enlarge. As a result, the number of plasmodesmata between the SE-CC complex and the first layer of mesophyll cells declines in nonimporting tissue to 34% of the number found in importing tissue, indicating that loss of symplastic continuity between the phloem and surrounding cells plays a role in termination of photoassimilate unloading.


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