Ultrastructure of the membrane systems in the unicellular cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803

Protoplasma. 2006 May;227(2-4):129-38. doi: 10.1007/s00709-006-0145-7. Epub 2006 May 30.


Among prokaryotes, cyanobacteria are unique in having highly differentiated internal membrane systems. Like other Gram-negative bacteria, cyanobacteria such as Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 have a cell envelope consisting of a plasma membrane, peptidoglycan layer, and outer membrane. In addition, these organisms have an internal system of thylakoid membranes where the electron transfer reactions of photosynthesis and respiration occur. A long-standing controversy concerning the cellular ultrastructures of these organisms has been whether the thylakoid membranes exist inside the cell as separate compartments, or if they have physical continuity with the plasma membrane. Advances in cellular preservation protocols as well as in image acquisition and manipulation techniques have facilitated a new examination of this topic. We have used a combination of electron microscopy techniques, including freeze-etched as well as freeze-substituted preparations, in conjunction with computer-aided image processing to generate highly detailed images of the membrane systems in Synechocystis cells. We show that the thylakoid membranes are in fact physically discontinuous from the plasma membrane in this cyanobacterium. Thylakoid membranes in Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 thus represent bona fide intracellular organelles, the first example of such compartments in prokaryotic cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Synechocystis / classification*
  • Synechocystis / cytology*
  • Synechocystis / ultrastructure