Vesicular transport and salt tolerance

Halophytes tolerate external salt concentrations of 200 mm and more, accumulating salt concentrations of 500 mm and more in their shoots; some, recretohalophytes, excrete salt through glands on their leaves. Ions are accumulated in central vacuoles, but the pathway taken by these ions from the outside of the roots to the vacuoles inside the cells is poorly understood. Do the ions cross membranes through ion channels and transporters or move in vesicles, or both? Vesicular transport from the plasma membrane to the vacuole would explain how halophytes avoid the toxicity of high salt concentrations on metabolism. There is also a role for vesicles in the export of ions via salt glands.

Hypothetical vesicular transport of Na+ ions in halophytes.
Hypothetical vesicular transport of Na+ ions in halophytes.

Flowers et al. collect data on the rates of sodium transport found in halophytes and outline vesicle transport systems in general. They conclude there is strong evidence in favour of vesicular transport in plants and circumstantial evidence in favour of the movement of ions in vesicles. Estimated rates of vesicle turnover could account for ion transport at the lower reported fluxes (around 20 nmol m–2 s–1), but the higher fluxes may require vesicles of the order of 1 μm or more in diameter. The very high fluxes reported in some salt glands might be an artefact of the way they were measured.

Further reading

Flowers, T. J., Glenn, E. P., & Volkov, V. (2018). Could vesicular transport of Na and Cl– be a feature of salt tolerance in halophytes? Annals of Botany, 123(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcy164