Background Halophytes tolerate external salt concentrations of 200 mm and more, accumulating salt concentrations of 500 mm and more in their shoots; some, recretohalophytes, excrete salt through glands on their leaves. Ions are accumulated in central vacuoles, but the pathway taken by these ions from the outside of the roots to the vacuoles inside the cells is poorly understood. Do the ions cross membranes through ion channels and transporters or move in vesicles, or both? Vesicular transport from the plasma membrane to the vacuole would explain how halophytes avoid the toxicity of high salt concentrations on metabolism. There is also a role for vesicles in the export of ions via salt glands.
Scope and Methods We have collected data on the fluxes of sodium and chloride ions in halophytes, based on the weight of the transporting organs and on the membrane area across which the flux occurs; the latter range from 17 nmol m(-2) s(-1) to 4.2 mol m(-2) s(-1) and values up to 1 mol m(-2) s(-1) need to be consistent with whatever transport system is in operation. We have summarized the sizes and rates of turnover of vesicles in plants, where clathrin-independent vesicles are 100 nm or more in diameter and can merge with the plasma membrane at rates of 100 s(-1). We gathered evidence for vesicular transport of ions in halophytes and evaluated whether vesicular transport could account for the observable fluxes.
Conclusions There is strong evidence in favour of vesicular transport in plants and circumstantial evidence in favour of the movement of ions in vesicles. Estimated rates of vesicle turnover could account for ion transport at the lower reported fluxes (around 20 nmol m(-2) s(-1)), but the higher fluxes may require vesicles of the order of 1 m or more in diameter. The very high fluxes reported in some salt glands might be an artefact of the way they were measured.