Gas exchange in plants is controlled by guard cells, specialized cells acting as turgor pressure-driven valves. Malate is one of the major anions accumulated inside the vacuole during stomatal opening counteracting the positive charge of potassium. AtALMT6, a member of the aluminum-activated malate transporter family, is expressed in guard cells of leaves and stems as well as in flower organs of Arabidopsis thaliana. An AtALMT6-GFP fusion protein was targeted to the vacuolar membrane both in transient and stable expression systems. Patch-clamp experiments on vacuoles isolated from AtALMT6-GFP over-expressing Arabidopsis plants revealed large inward-rectifying malate currents only in the presence of micromolar cytosolic calcium concentrations. Further analyses showed that vacuolar pH and cytosolic malate regulate the threshold of activation of AtALMT6-mediated currents. The interplay of these two factors determines the AtALMT6 function as a malate influx or efflux channel depending on the tonoplast potential. Guard cell vacuoles isolated from Atalmt6 knock-out plants displayed reduced malate currents compared with wild-type vacuoles. This reduction, however, was not accompanied by phenotypic differences in the stomatal movements in knock-out plants, probably because of functional redundancy of malate transporters in guard cell vacuoles.
© 2011 The Authors. The Plant Journal © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.