Chloroplast membrane transport: interplay of prokaryotic and eukaryotic traits

Gene. 2005 Jul 18:354:99-109. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2005.04.021.


Chloroplasts are specific plant organelles of prokaryotic origin. They are separated from the surrounding cell by a double membrane, which represents an effective barrier for the transport of metabolites and proteins. Specific transporters in the inner envelope membrane have been described, which facilitate the exchange of metabolites. In contrast, the outer envelope has been viewed for a long time as a molecular sieve that offers a mere size constriction to the passage of molecules. This view has been challenged lately, and a number of specific and regulated pore proteins of the outer envelope (OEPs) have been identified. These pores seem to have originated by adaptation of outer membrane proteins of the cyanobacterial ancestor of the chloroplast. In a similar fashion, the transport of proteins across the two envelope membranes is achieved by two hetero-oligomeric protein complexes called Toc (translocon in the outer envelope of chloroplasts) and Tic (translocon in the inner envelope of chloroplasts). The phylogenetic provenance of the translocon components is less clear, but at least the channel protein of the Toc translocon is of cyanobacterial origin. Characteristic of cyanobacteria and chloroplasts is furthermore a specialized internal membrane system, the thylakoids, on which the components of the photosynthetic machinery are located. Despite the importance of this membrane, very little is known about its phylogenetic origin or the manner of its synthesis. Vipp1 appears to be a ubiquitous component of thylakoid formation, while in chloroplasts of land plants, additionally a vesicle transport system of eukaryotic origin might be involved in this process.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Chloroplasts / metabolism
  • Cyanobacteria / metabolism
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism*
  • Prokaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Protein Transport
  • Thylakoids / metabolism*


  • Plant Proteins