• apoplast;
  • apoplastic barrier;
  • cellular pathway;
  • crease region;
  • developing grain;
  • plasmodesmata;
  • photosynthate unloading;
  • symplast;
  • transfer cell;
  • wheat (Triticum turgidum)


In the developing wheat grain, photosynthate is transferred longitudinally along the crease phloem and then laterally into the endosperm cavity through the crease vascular parenchyma, pigment strand and nucellar projection. In order to clarify this cellular pathway of photosynthate unloading, and hence the controlling mechanism of grain filling, the potential for symplastic and apoplastic transfer was examined through structural and histochemical studies on these tissue types. It was found that cells in the crease region from the phloem to the nucellar projection are interconnected by numerous plasmodesmata and have dense cytoplasm with abundant mitochondria. Histochemical studies confirmed that, at the stage of grain development studied, an apoplastic barrier exists in the cell walls of the pigment strand. This barrier is composed of lignin, phenolics and suberin. The potential capacity for symplastic transfer, determined by measuring plasmodesmatal frequencies and computing potential sucrose fluxes through these plasmodesmata, indicated that there is sufficient plasmodesmatal cross-sectional area to support symplastic unloading of photosynthate at the rate required for normal grain growth. The potential capacity for membrane transport of sucrose to the apoplast was assessed by measuring plasma membrane surface areas of the various cell types and computing potential plasma membrane fluxes of sucrose. These fluxes indicated that the combined plasma membrane surface areas of the sieve element–companion cell (se–cc) complexes, vascular parenchyma and pigment strand are not sufficient to allow sucrose transfer to the apoplast at the observed rates. In contrast, the wall ingrowths of the transfer cells in the nucellar projection amplify the membrane surface area up to 22-fold, supporting the observed rates of sucrose transfer into the endosperm cavity. We conclude that photosynthate moves via the symplast from the se–cc complexes to the nucellar projection transfer cells, from where it is transferred across the plasma membrane into the endosperm cavity. The apoplastic barrier in the pigment strand is considered to restrict solute movement to the symplast and block apoplastic solute exchange between maternal and embryonic tissues. The implications of this cellular pathway in relation to the control of photosynthate transfer in the developing grain are discussed.