How Plants Cope with Foreign Compounds. Translocation of xenobiotic glutathione conjugates in roots of barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Peter Schröder, Christian E. Scheer, Frauke Diekmann, Andreas Stampfl

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69 Scopus citations


Background and Aim. Numerous herbicides and xenobiotic organic pollutants are detoxified in plants to glutathione conjugates. Following this enzyme catalyzed reaction, xenobiotic GS-conjugates are thought to be compartmentalized in the vacuole of plant cells. In the present study, evidence is presented from experiments with roots of barley (Hordeum vulgare cv. Cherie) that part of these conjugates will undergo long range transport in plants, rather than be stored in the vacuole. To our knowledge, this is the first report about the unidirectional long-range transport of xenobiotic conjugates in plants and the exsudation of a glutathione conjugate from the root tips. This could mean that plants possess an excretion system for unwanted compounds giving them similar advantages as animals. Methods. Barley plants (Hordeum vulgare) were grown in Petri dishes soaked with tap water in the greenhouse. Fluorescence Microscopy. Roots of barley seedlings were cut under water, and the end at which the pesticides were applied was fixed in an aperture with a thin latex foil and transferred into a drop of water on a cover slide. The cover slide was fixed in a measuring chamber on the stage of an inverse fluorescence microscope (Zeiss Axiovert 100). Monobromo- and Monochlorobimane, two model xenobiotics that are conjugated rapidly in plant cells with glutathione, hereby forming fluorescent metabolites, were used as markers. Their transport in the root could be followed with high time resolution. Spectrometric enzyme assay. Glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity was determined in the protein extracts following established methods. Aliquots of the enzyme extract were incubated with 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene (CDNB), or monochlorobimane. Controls lacking enzyme or GSH were measured. Pitman chamber experiments. Ten days old barley plants or detached roots were inserted into special incubation chambers, either complete with tips or decapitated, as well as 10 days old barley plants without root tips. Compartment A was filled with a transport medium and GSH conjugate or L-cysteine conjugate. Compartments B and C contained sugar free media. Samples were taken from the root tip containing compartment C and the amount of conjugate transported was determined spectro-photometrically. Results. The transport in roots is unidirectional towards the root tips and leads to exsudation of the conjugates at rates between 20 and 200 nmol min-1. The microscopic studies have been complemented by transport studies in small root chambers and spectroscopic quantification of dinitrobenzene-conjugates. The latter experiments confirm the microscopic studies. Furthermore it was shown that glutathione conjugates are transported at higher rates than cysteine conjugates, despite of their higher molecular weights. This observation points to the existence of glutathione specific carriers and a specific role of glutathione in the root. Discussion. It can be assumed that long distance transport of glutathione conjugates within the plant proceeds like GSH or amino acid transport in both, phloem and xylem. The high velocity of this translocation of the GS-X is indicative of an active transport. For free glutathione, a rapid transport-system is essential because an accumulation of GSH in the root tip inhibits further uptake of sulfur. Taking into account that all described MRP transporters and also the GSH plasmalemma ATPases have side activities for glutathione derivatives and conjugates, co-transport of these xenobiotic metabolites seems credible. On the other hand, when GS-B was applied to the root tips from the outside, no significant uptake was observed. Thus it can be concluded that only those conjugates can be transported in the xylem which are formed inside the root apex. Having left the root once, there seems to be no return into the root vessels, probably because of a lack of inward directed transporters. Conclusions. Plants seem to possess the capability to store glutathione conjugates in the vacuole, but under certain conditions, these metabolites might also undergo long range transport, predominantly into the plant root. The transport seems dependent on specific carriers and is unidirectional, this means that xenobiotic conjugates from the rhizosphere are not taken up again. The exudation of xenobiotic metabolites offers an opportunity to avoid the accumulation of such compounds in the plant. Recommendations and Perspectives. The role of glutathione and glutathione related metabolites in the rhizosphere has not been studied in any detail, and only scattered data are available on interactions between the plant root and rhizosphere bacteria that encounter such conjugates. The final fate of these compounds in the root zone has also not been addressed so far. It will be interesting to study effects of the exsuded metabolites on the biology of rhizosphere bacteria and fungi.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-122
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Barley
  • Conjugates
  • Cysteine
  • Exsudation
  • Glutathione
  • Hordeum vulgare
  • Long-range transport
  • Signaling
  • Stress factors
  • Xenobiotic glutathione conjugates in plants


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