Thylakoid membranes contain a non-selective channel permeable to small organic molecules

J Biol Chem. 2018 May 18;293(20):7777-7785. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.002367. Epub 2018 Mar 30.


The thylakoid lumen is a membrane-enclosed aqueous compartment. Growing evidence indicates that the thylakoid lumen is not only a sink for protons and inorganic ions translocated during photosynthetic reactions but also a place for metabolic activities, e.g. proteolysis of photodamaged proteins, to sustain efficient photosynthesis. However, the mechanism whereby organic molecules move across the thylakoid membranes to sustain these lumenal activities is not well understood. In a recent study of Cyanophora paradoxa chloroplasts (muroplasts), we fortuitously detected a conspicuous diffusion channel activity in the thylakoid membranes. Here, using proteoliposomes reconstituted with the thylakoid membranes from muroplasts and from two other phylogenetically distinct organisms, cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 and spinach, we demonstrated the existence of nonselective channels large enough for enabling permeation of small organic compounds (e.g. carbohydrates and amino acids with Mr < 1500) in the thylakoid membranes. Moreover, we purified, identified, and characterized a muroplast channel named here CpTPOR. Osmotic swelling experiments revealed that CpTPOR forms a nonselective pore with an estimated radius of ∼1.3 nm. A lipid bilayer experiment showed variable-conductance channel activity with a typical single-channel conductance of 1.8 nS in 1 m KCl with infrequent closing transitions. The CpTPOR amino acid sequence was moderately similar to that of a voltage-dependent anion-selective channel of the mitochondrial outer membrane, although CpTPOR exhibited no obvious selectivity for anions and no voltage-dependent gating. We propose that transmembrane diffusion pathways are ubiquitous in the thylakoid membranes, presumably enabling rapid transfer of various metabolites between the lumen and stroma.

Keywords: CpTPOR; chloroplast; cyanobacteria; diffusion channel; liposome; membrane transport; muroplast; permeability; photosynthesis; porin; thylakoid membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Chloroplasts / metabolism*
  • Cyanophora / metabolism*
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism*
  • Organic Chemicals / metabolism*
  • Osmosis
  • Photosynthesis
  • Proteolipids
  • Synechocystis / physiology*
  • Thylakoids / metabolism*
  • Voltage-Dependent Anion Channels / metabolism*


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Proteolipids
  • Voltage-Dependent Anion Channels
  • proteoliposomes