Divergent metabolome and proteome suggest functional independence of dual phloem transport systems in cucurbits

Baichen Zhang, Vladimir Tolstikov, Colin Turnbull, Leslie M. Hicks, Oliver Fiehn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Cucurbitaceous plants (cucurbits) have long been preferred models for studying phloem physiology. However, these species are unusual in that they possess two different phloem systems, one within the main vascular bundles [fascicular phloem (FP)] and another peripheral to the vascular bundles and scattered through stem and petiole cortex tissues [extrafascicular phloem (EFP)]. We have revisited the assumption that the sap released after shoot incision originates from the FP, and also investigated the long-standing question of why the sugar content of this sap is ∼30-fold less than predicted for requirements of photosynthate delivery. Video microscopy and phloem labeling experiments unexpectedly reveal that FP very quickly becomes blocked upon cutting, whereas the extrafascicular phloem bleeds for extended periods. Thus, all cucurbit phloem sap studies to date have reported metabolite, protein, and RNA composition and transport in the relatively minor extrafascicular sieve tubes. Using tissue dissection and direct sampling of sieve tube contents, we show that FP in fact does contain up to 1 M sugars, in contrast to low-millimolar levels in the EFP. Moreover, major phloem proteins in sieve tubes of FP differ from those that predominate in the extrafascicular sap, and include several previously uncharacterized proteins with little or no homology to databases. The overall compositional differences of the two phloem systems strongly indicate functional isolation. On this basis, we propose that the fascicular phloem is largely responsible for sugar transport, whereas the extrafascicular phloem may function in signaling, defense, and transport of other metabolites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13532-13537
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 27 2010


  • Cucurbitaceae
  • Extrafascicular
  • Exudate
  • P-protein
  • Symplastic loading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General
  • Medicine(all)


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