Cellular export of sugars and amino acids: role in feeding other cells and organisms

Plant Physiol. 2021 Dec 4;187(4):1893-1914. doi: 10.1093/plphys/kiab228.


Sucrose, hexoses, and raffinose play key roles in the plant metabolism. Sucrose and raffinose, produced by photosynthesis, are translocated from leaves to flowers, developing seeds and roots. Translocation occurs in the sieve elements or sieve tubes of angiosperms. But how is sucrose loaded into and unloaded from the sieve elements? There seem to be two principal routes: one through plasmodesmata and one via the apoplasm. The best-studied transporters are the H+/SUCROSE TRANSPORTERs (SUTs) in the sieve element-companion cell complex. Sucrose is delivered to SUTs by SWEET sugar uniporters that release these key metabolites into the apoplasmic space. The H+/amino acid permeases and the UmamiT amino acid transporters are hypothesized to play analogous roles as the SUT-SWEET pair to transport amino acids. SWEETs and UmamiTs also act in many other important processes-for example, seed filling, nectar secretion, and pollen nutrition. We present information on cell type-specific enrichment of SWEET and UmamiT family members and propose several members to play redundant roles in the efflux of sucrose and amino acids across different cell types in the leaf. Pathogens hijack SWEETs and thus represent a major susceptibility of the plant. Here, we provide an update on the status of research on intercellular and long-distance translocation of key metabolites such as sucrose and amino acids, communication of the plants with the root microbiota via root exudates, discuss the existence of transporters for other important metabolites and provide potential perspectives that may direct future research activities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport / drug effects*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Phloem / metabolism*
  • Plasmodesmata / metabolism*
  • Sugars / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Sugars