A subgroup of plant aquaporins facilitate the bi-directional diffusion of As(OH)3 and Sb(OH)3 across membranes
Journal article, 2008

Background Arsenic is a toxic and highly abundant metalloid that endangers human health through drinking water and the food chain. The most common forms of arsenic in the environment are arsenate (As(V)) and arsenite (As(III)). As(V) is a non-functional phosphate analog that enters the food chain via plant phosphate transporters. Inside cells, As(V) becomes reduced to As(III) for subsequent extrusion or compartmentation. Although much is known about As(III) transport and handling in microbes and mammals, the transport systems for As(III) have not yet been characterized in plants. Results Here we show that the Nodulin26-like Intrinsic Proteins (NIPs) AtNIP5;1 and AtNIP6;1 from Arabidopsis thaliana, OsNIP2;1 and OsNIP3;2 from Oryza sativa, and LjNIP5;1 and LjNIP6;1 from Lotus japonicus are bi-directional As(III) channels. Expression of these NIPs sensitized yeast cells to As(III) and antimonite (Sb(III)), and direct transport assays confirmed their ability to facilitate As(III) transport across cell membranes. On medium containing As(V), expression of the same NIPs improved yeast growth, probably due to increased As(III) efflux. Our data furthermore provide evidence that NIPs can discriminate between highly similar substrates and that they may have differential preferences in the direction of transport. A subgroup of As(III) permeable channels that group together in a phylogenetic tree required N-terminal truncation for functional expression in yeast. Conclusion This is the first molecular identification of plant As(III) transport systems and we propose that metalloid transport through NIPs is a conserved and ancient feature. Our observations are potentially of great importance for improved remediation and tolerance of plants, and may provide a key to the development of low arsenic crops for food production.

sequence analysis

membrane transport


plant aquaporins


Gern Bienert

Michael Thorsen

University of Gothenburg

Manuela Schüssler

R. Henrik Nilsson

University of Gothenburg

Annemarie Wagner

University of Gothenburg

Markus J. Tamás

University of Gothenburg

Thomas Jahn

BMC Biology

1741-7007 (ISSN)

Vol. 6 26

Subject Categories


Cell Biology

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Other Biological Topics


Bioinformatics and Systems Biology





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