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Plants contain relatively few cell types, each contributing a specialized role in shaping plant function. With respect to plant nutrition, different cell types accumulate certain elements in varying amounts within their storage vacuole. The role and mechanisms underlying cell-specific distribution of elements in plants is poorly understood.
The phenomenon of cell-specific elemental accumulation has been briefly reviewed previously, but recent technological advances with the potential to probe mechanisms underlying elemental compartmentation have warranted an updated evaluation. We have taken this opportunity to catalogue many of the studies, and techniques used for, recording cell-specific compartmentation of particular elements. More importantly, we use three case-study elements (Ca, Cd and Na) to highlight the basis of such phenomena in terms of their physiological implications and underpinning mechanisms; we also link such distributions to the expression of known ion or solute transporters.
Element accumulation patterns are clearly defined by expression of key ion or solute transporters. Although the location of element accumulation is fairly robust, alterations in expression of certain solute transporters, through genetic modifications or by growth under stress, result in perturbations to these patterns. However, redundancy or induced pleiotropic expression effects may complicate attempts to characterize the pathways that lead to cell-specific elemental distribution. Accumulation of one element often has consequences on the accumulation of others, which seems to be driven largely to maintain vacuolar and cytoplasmic osmolarity and charge balance, and also serves as a detoxification mechanism. Altered cell-specific transcriptomics can be shown, in part, to explain some of this compensation.