CAX-ing a wide net: Cation/H(+) transporters in metal remediation and abiotic stress signalling

Plant Biol (Stuttg). 2016 Sep;18(5):741-9. doi: 10.1111/plb.12460. Epub 2016 May 6.


Cation/proton exchangers (CAXs) are a class of secondary energised ion transporter that are being implicated in an increasing range of cellular and physiological functions. CAXs are primarily Ca(2+) efflux transporters that mediate the sequestration of Ca(2+) from the cytosol, usually into the vacuole. Some CAX isoforms have broad substrate specificity, providing the ability to transport trace metal ions such as Mn(2+) and Cd(2+) , as well as Ca(2+) . In recent years, genomic analyses have begun to uncover the expansion of CAXs within the green lineage and their presence within non-plant species. Although there appears to be significant conservation in tertiary structure of CAX proteins, there is diversity in function of CAXs between species and individual isoforms. For example, in halophytic plants, CAXs have been recruited to play a role in salt tolerance, while in metal hyperaccumulator plants CAXs are implicated in cadmium transport and tolerance. CAX proteins are involved in various abiotic stress response pathways, in some cases as a modulator of cytosolic Ca(2+) signalling, but in some situations there is evidence of CAXs acting as a pH regulator. The metal transport and abiotic stress tolerance functions of CAXs make them attractive targets for biotechnology, whether to provide mineral nutrient biofortification or toxic metal bioremediation. The study of non-plant CAXs may also provide insight into both conserved and novel transport mechanisms and functions.

Keywords: Abiotic stress; CAX structure; Ca2+/H+ exchanger; biofortification; phytoremediation; transporter evolution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / physiology
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cations / metabolism*
  • Ion Transport
  • Models, Structural
  • Organ Specificity
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protons
  • Salt-Tolerant Plants
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Vacuoles / metabolism


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Cations
  • Plant Proteins
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protons
  • Calcium