Physiological functions of malate shuttles in plants and algae

Trends Plant Sci. 2022 May;27(5):488-501. doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2021.11.007. Epub 2021 Nov 27.


Subcellular compartmentalization confers evolutionary advantage to eukaryotic cells but entails the need for efficient interorganelle communication. Malate functions as redox carrier and metabolic intermediate. It can be shuttled across membranes through translocators. The interconversion of malate and oxaloacetate mediated by malate dehydrogenases requires oxidation/reduction of NAD(P)H/NAD(P)+; therefore, malate trafficking serves to transport reducing equivalents and this is termed the 'malate shuttle'. Although the term 'malate shuttle' was coined more than 50 years ago, novel functions are still emerging. This review highlights recent findings on the functions of malate shuttles in photorespiration, fatty acid β-oxidation, interorganelle signaling and its putative role in CO2-concentrating mechanisms. We compare and contrast knowledge in plants and algae, thereby providing an evolutionary perspective on redox trafficking in photosynthetic eukaryotes.

Keywords: CO(2) concentrating mechanism; dicarboxylate translocator; malate dehydrogenase; photorespiration; reactive oxygen species; redox trafficking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Malates* / metabolism
  • NAD* / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Photosynthesis


  • Malates
  • NAD
  • malic acid