Plant cells orchestrate an array of molecular mechanisms for maintaining plasmatic concentrations of essential heavy metal (HM) ions, for example, iron, zinc and copper, within the optimal functional range. In parallel, concentrations of non-essential HMs and metalloids, for example, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, should be kept below their toxicity threshold levels. Vacuolar compartmentalization is central to HM homeostasis. It depends on two vacuolar pumps (V-ATPase and V-PPase) and a set of tonoplast transporters, which are directly driven by proton motive force, and primary ATP-dependent pumps. While HM non-hyperaccumulator plants largely sequester toxic HMs in root vacuoles, HM hyperaccumulators usually sequester them in leaf cell vacuoles following efficient long-distance translocation. The distinct strategies evolved as a consequence of organ-specific differences particularly in vacuolar transporters and in addition to distinct features in long-distance transport. Recent molecular and functional characterization of tonoplast HM transporters has advanced our understanding of their contribution to HM homeostasis, tolerance and hyperaccumulation. Another important part of the dynamic vacuolar sequestration syndrome involves enhanced vacuolation. It involves vesicular trafficking in HM detoxification. The present review provides an updated account of molecular aspects that contribute to the vacuolar compartmentalization of HMs.
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