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Keywords:

  • Intercellular transport;
  • macromolecular trafficking;
  • nucleocytoplasmic transport;
  • primary plasmodesma;
  • plant development;
  • plasmodesmal development;
  • secondary plasmodesma;
  • symplasmic domains;
  • viral infection

SUMMARY

In the classical formulation of Münch (1930), plasmodesmata are considered to form simple cytoplasmic bridges between neighbouring plant cells to create the symplasm. This concept has dominated, if not monopolized, the thinking of plant biologists and in particular plant physiologists over the last few decades. Recent advances in ultrastructural, physiological and molecular studies on plasmodesmata indicate that this simple view is in need of revision.

Structurally, the higher plant plasmodesma has been revealed to be a supramolecular complex consisting of membranes and proteins. Functionally, evidence is at hand that this complex structure appears to have evolved not only to control the size exclusion limit for intercellular diffusion of metabolites and small molecules, but also to potentiate and regulate intercellular trafficking of macromolecules, including proteins and nucleic acids. In this regard, plasmodesmal transport may share parallel regulatory mechanisms with nucleocytoplasmic transport.

Based on these findings, we advance the hypothesis that plants function as supracellular, rather than multicellular, organisms. As such, the dynamics of the plant body, including cell differentiation, tissue formation, organogenesis and specialized physiological function(s), is subject to plasmodesmal regulation. Plasmodesmata presumably accomplish such regulatory roles by trafficking informational molecules which orchestrate both metabolic activity and gene expression. Current and future studies on the evolutionary origin(s) of plasmodesmata are likely to provide valuable information in terms of the genetic and molecular basis for the supracellular nature of plants.