Tansley Review No. 21 Plant ion channels: whole-cell and single channel studies



Ion channels are proteins which catalyse rapid, passive, electrogenic uniport of ions through pores spanning an otherwise poorly permeable lipid bilayer. Among other processes, fluxes through ion channels are responsible for action potentials – large, transient changes in membrane potential which have been known of in plants for over 100 years. Much disparate information on ion channels in plant cells has accumulated over the past few years. In an attempt to synthesize these data, the properties of at least 18 different ion channels are collated in this review. Channels are initially classified according to ion selectivity (Ca2+, Cl, K+ and H+); then gating characteristics (i.e. control of opening and closing), unitary conductance and pharmacology are used to distinguish further different sub-types of channels. To provide a background for this overview, the fundamental properties which define ion channels in animal cells, namely conduction, selectivity and gating, are described. Appropriate techniques for the study of ion channels are also assessed. The review concludes with a discussion on the role of ion channels in plant cells, although any comment on functions beyond turgor regulation and general statements about signalling remains largely speculative. The study of ion channels in plant cells is still at an early stage and it is hoped that this review will provide a framework upon which further work in both algae and vascular plants can be based.