, Volume 171, Issue 1, pp 89-103

Overcoming barriers to understanding the cellular basis of aluminium resistance

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Abstract

There appears to be an emerging consensus that resistance to aluminium (Al) is mediated at the cellular level. Virtually all current hypotheses which seek to explain the basis of Al resistance have a cellular focus, including those which postulate that external mechanisms limit the rate of Al entry across the membrane and/or protect sensitive extracellular sites, as well as those which postulate that internal mechanisms detoxify Al in the cytoplasm. If Al resistance is a cellular phenomenon, it should be expressed in single cells. Attempts to demonstrate resistance in cell culture systems, however, have not been uniformly satisfying. Considerable uncertainty has arisen from use of experimental conditions which favour formation of insoluble or non-toxic Al species. This problem has plagued research which has attempted to select for Al resistance in cell culture systems, as well as research which has attempted to express existing patterns of differential resistance in cell culture systems. Despite technical problems such as this, work at the cellular level has provided some important contributions. Most importantly, we now know resistance to Al can be expressed at the cellular level. We have discovered also that plant cells accumulate Al much more rapidly in cell culture systems than in intact roots and that isolated cells are more sensitive to Al than complex tissues. While this type of research is still hampered by a number of technical barriers, it would appear that more rapid progress could be achieved if greater emphasis was placed on true “experimental” work. Furthermore, we need to begin evaluating experimental data in the context of an integrated Al stress response if we are to achieve a full understanding of the cellular basis of Al resistance.