Little is known regarding the trafficking mechanisms of small molecules within plant cells. It remains to be established whether phytochemicals are transported by pathways similar to those used by proteins, or whether the expansion of metabolic pathways in plants was associated with the evolution of novel trafficking pathways. In this paper, we exploited the induction of green and yellow auto-fluorescent compounds in maize cultured cells by the P1 transcription factor to investigate their targeting to the cell wall and vacuole, respectively.
We investigated the accumulation and sub-cellular localization of the green and yellow auto-fluorescent compounds in maize BMS cells expressing the P1 transcription factor from an estradiol inducible promoter. We established that the yellow fluorescent compounds accumulate inside the vacuole in YFBs that resemble AVIs. The green fluorescent compounds accumulate initially in the cytoplasm in large spherical GFBs. Cells accumulating GFBs also contain electron-dense structures that accumulate initially in the ER and which later appear to fuse with the plasma membrane. Structures resembling the GFBs were also observed in the periplasmic space of plasmolized cells. Ultimately, the green fluorescence accumulates in the cell wall, in a process that is insensitive to the Golgi-disturbing agents BFA and monensin.
Our results suggest the presence of at least two distinct trafficking pathways, one to the cell wall and the other to the vacuole, for different auto-fluorescent compounds induced by the same transcription factor in maize BMS cells. These compartments represent two of the major sites of accumulation of phenolic compounds characteristic of maize cells. The secretion of the green auto-fluorescent compounds occurs by a pathway that does not involve the TGN, suggesting that it is different from the secretion of most proteins, polysaccharides or epicuticular waxes. The yellow auto-fluorescent compounds accumulate in a vacuolar compartment, in structures that resemble the AVIs present in many cells accumulating anthocyanins. Together, our studies suggest that the accumulation of auto-fluorescent compounds can provide a powerful tool to dissect the trafficking of phytochemicals, knowledge necessary for the efficient engineering of plant metabolism.