Vacuoles Today and Twenty Years Ago

  • Philippe Matile
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 134)


Nothing could demonstrate better the current awareness for the significance of plant vacuoles than the recent flood of reviews covering all the different aspects of vacuolar functions and reflecting the atonishing progress in the understanding of this compartment. Twenty years ago it was the search for the analogue in plant cells of animal lysosomes which provoked an attempt to isolate vacuoles and to study the subcellular compartmentation of hydrolytic enzymes. It appeared to be utterly impossible to isolate the large and fragile central vacuoles. However, it turned out that the small vacuoles from meristematic roots can be liberated by the chopping of plasmolysed tissue and enriched by appropriate centrifugation procedures (Fig. 1). The observation that several hydrolases had much higher specific activities in vacuolar fractions than in the homogenates represented an initial basis for postulating the lysosomal nature of plant vacuoles (Matile, 1966). The concept of the “lytic compartment of plant cells” which eventually emerged (Matile, 1975), was largely based on the localization of hydrolases in special types of vacuoles that could be isolated at that time, e.g. small vacuoles present in the latex of plants having articulated laticifers, protein bodies, or fungal vacuoles. Morphological evidence favouring the origin of the main vacuoles of mature cells from meristematic vacuoles was another basis of this concept. In addition, the lysosomal nature of vacuoles was infered from electron micrographs showing the apparent decay of cytoplasmic structures suspended in the vacuolar fluid.


Subcellular Compartmentation Indole Alkaloid Small Vacuole Acer Pseudoplatanus Plant Vacuole 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philippe Matile
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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