• chloroplast;
  • endomembrane structure;
  • fucoxanthin-chlorophyll a/c binding protein (FCP);
  • heterokont;
  • Heterosigma akashiwo;
  • protein targeting;
  • secondary endosymbiosis;
  • signal sequence symbiogenesis

Chloroplasts in heterokont algae are surrounded by four membranes and probably originated from a red algal endosymbiont that was engulfed and retained by eukaryotic host. Understanding how nuclear-encoded chloroplast proteins are translocated from the cytoplasm into the chloroplast across these membranes could give us some insights about how the endosymbiont was integrated into the host cell in the process of secondary symbiogenesis. In multiplastid heterokont algae such as raphidophytes, it has been unclear if the outermost of the four membranes surrounding the chloroplast (the chloroplast endoplasmic reticulum [CER] membrane) is continuous with the nuclear envelope and rough endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Here, we report detailed ultrastructural observations of the raphidophyte Heterosigma akashiwo (Hada) Hada ex Y. Hara et Chihara that show that the CER membranes were continuous with ER membranes that had attached ribosomes, implying that the chloroplast with three envelope membranes is located within the ER lumen, that is, topologically the same structure as that of monoplastid heterokont algae. However, the CER membrane of H. akashiwo had very few, if any, ribosomes attached, unlike the CER membranes in other heterokont algae. To verify that proteins are first targeted to the ER, we assayed protein import into canine microsomes using a precursor for a nuclear-encoded chloroplast protein, the fucoxanthin-chlorophyll a/c protein of H. akashiwo. This demonstrated that the precursor has a functional signal sequence for ER targeting and is cotranslationally translocated into the ER, where a signal sequence of about 17 amino acids is removed. Based on these data, we hypothesize that in H. akashiwo, nuclear-encoded chloroplast protein precursors that have been cotranslationally transported into the ER lumen are sorted in the ER and transported to the chloroplasts through the ER lumen.