Background: Stromules are dynamic tubular structures emerging from the surface of plastids that are filled with stroma. Despite considerable progress in understanding the importance of certain cytoskeleton elements and motor proteins for stromule maintenance, their function within the plant cell is still unknown. It has been suggested that stromules facilitate the exchange of metabolites and/or signals between plastids and other cell compartments by increasing the cytosolically exposed plastid surface area but experimental evidence for the involvement of stromules in metabolic processes is not available. The frequent occurrence of stromules in both sink tissues and heterotrophic cell cultures suggests that the presence of carbohydrates in the extracellular space is a possible trigger of stromule formation. We have examined this hypothesis with induction experiments using the upper epidermis from rosette leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana as a model system.
Results: We found that the stromule frequency rises significantly if either sucrose or glucose is applied to the apoplast by vacuum infiltration. In contrast, neither fructose nor sorbitol or mannitol are capable of inducing stromule formation which rules out the hypothesis that stromule induction is merely the result of changes in the osmotic conditions. Stromule formation depends on translational activity in the cytosol, whereas protein synthesis within the plastids is not required. Lastly, stromule induction is not restricted to the plastids of the upper epidermis but is similarly observed also with chloroplasts of the palisade parenchyma.
Conclusions: The establishment of an experimental system allowing the reproducible induction of stromules by vacuum infiltration of leaf tissue provides a suitable tool for the systematic analysis of conditions and requirements leading to the formation of these dynamic organelle structures. The applicability of the approach is demonstrated here by analyzing the influence of apoplastic sugar solutions on stromule formation. We found that only a subset of sugars generated in the primary metabolism of plants induce stromule formation, which is furthermore dependent on cytosolic translational activity. This suggests regulation of stromule formation by sugar sensing mechanisms and a possible role of stromules in carbohydrate metabolism and metabolite exchange.