Introduction to the Plant Plasma Membrane


The plasma membrane (PM) surrounds all living cells and is the border checkpoint regulating transport and maintaining cytoplasmic homeostasis. The PM is composed of a phospholipid bilayer containing proteins that are important for transport across this barrier. These transport proteins operate with three different mechanisms, as channels, carriers or pumps. From their amino acid sequences, transporter families of proteins have been identified, and these are often shared across all types of organisms, including bacteria, fungi and animals. Using sequence information, the function of an uncharacterised membrane protein can be defined, identifying the likely substrates carried by the transporter. The PM makes direct contact with the external environment through the cell wall, and some membrane proteins are receptors that sense the changing conditions outside the cell. Receptors help the cell to maintain cytoplasmic homeostasis and detect and fight pathogens.

Key Concepts

  • Phospholipid bilayers and proteins provide the fundamental architecture of the plasma membrane.
  • The phospholipid bilayer is not permeable to most ions and molecules, and selective transport is provided by proteins embedded in the membrane.
  • Three types of transporter mechanisms mediate transport across the plasma membrane, channels, carriers and pumps.
  • Families of PM transporters have been identified, and it is possible to predict their cargo ions and molecules based on gene sequence similarities.
  • The PM is a major sensing site containing many different types of receptors perceiving the external environment.
  • The PM of adjacent plant cells can be connected through plasmodesmatal pores in the cell wall.

Keywords: plasma membrane; plant transporters; channels; carriers; pumps; receptors

Figure 1. Diagram showing the basic structure of membranes including the plasma membrane. The proteins located in the membrane have a water‐repelling (hydrophobic) side that sits within the membrane, while the water‐attracting (hydrophilic) parts of the protein face either the cytoplasm or the outside the cell. The phospholipid bilayer contains a variety of membrane proteins, many of which are transporters. Plasma membrane proteins can anchor the membrane to the outside cell wall and some to the inside cytoskeleton.
Figure 2. Mechanisms of transport across the plasma membrane. There are three main mechanisms, channels, carriers or pumps. Taiz and Zeiger . Reproduced with permission of Oxford University Press.


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Further Reading

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Wang Y, Blatt MR and Chen Z‐H (2018) Ion transport at the plant plasma membrane. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd: Chichester. DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001307.pub3.

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Miller, Anthony J(May 2020) Introduction to the Plant Plasma Membrane. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0026509]