Plant Plasma Membrane


The plasma membrane encloses the contents of a cell and acts as a barrier between other cells and its environment. The plasma membrane consists of different classes of lipids and proteins of which the local concentration can change drastically at different parts of the cell. The membrane allows for a controlled exchange between ions and organic compounds throughout the rest of the organism and its surroundings. It forms a crucial signalling hub for growth and developmental responses and for tolerance to biotic (fungi, bacteria, viruses) and abiotic (e.g. salinity, drought, cold, heat) stresses. The plasma membrane also acts as an anchor point for the cytoskeleton and is the starting point from which the cell wall is synthesised. Key differences and similarities between plant and animal plasma membranes are discussed.

Key Concepts

  • Lipid bilayers provide the fundamental architecture of biological membranes.
  • The plasma membrane forms a key barrier between cells and their environment.
  • The plasma membrane is an important source to produce lipid second messengers.
  • Receptors facilitate extracellular and intracellular communication.
  • Endocytosis and exocytosis play key roles in plant growth and development and in stress tolerance.
  • The plasma membrane is impermeable to most molecules, especially for charged or large polar molecules.
  • Transporters are essential proteins facilitating transport of molecules across the plasma membrane.
  • The charge difference across the plasma membrane drives most of this transport.
  • The plasma membrane plays a central role in cellular communication.

Keywords: lipid composition; transport; receptors; signal transduction; cytoskeleton; endocytosis; exocytosis

Figure 1. An overview of transport systems in the plant plasma membrane. All transport is strictly regulated. This is indicated for the H+ and Ca2+ pumps, which are regulated by binding and release of 14‐3‐3 protein and calmodulin (CaM), respectively, and for the water channel activity that is regulated by phosphorylation (indicated by a P). ΔE, electrical gradient (membrane potential).
Figure 2. Receptors in the plasma membrane perceive environmental and endogenous signals. Left: The cytokinin (a hormone) two‐component receptor. Right: Four examples of receptor‐like protein kinases (RLKs) with differing extracellular domains. The signal (a ligand, e.g. a fungal protein) binds to the extracellular domain of the receptor, which induces receptor dimerisation or oligomerisation that brings the intracellular kinase domains together and allows them to phosphorylate (indicated by a P) and activate one another. This phosphorylation initiates downstream intracellular signal transduction, eventually resulting in intracellular responses, such as the biosynthesis and excretion of enzymes that degrade fungal cell walls (in pathogen defence reactions).

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van Hooren, Max, and Munnik, Teun(May 2017) Plant Plasma Membrane. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001672.pub3]