The phloem of higher plants translocates a diverse range of macromolecules including proteins, RNAs, and pathogens. This review considers the origin and destination of such macromolecules. A survey of the literature reveals that the majority of phloem-mobile macromolecules are synthesized within companion cells and enter the sieve elements through the branched plasmodesmata that connect these cells. Examples of systemic macromolecules that originate outside the companion cell are rare and are restricted to viral and subviral pathogens and putative RNA gene-silencing signals, all of which involve a relay system in which the macromolecule is amplified in each successive cell along the pathway to companion cells. Evidence is presented that xenobiotic macromolecules may enter the sieve element by a default pathway as they do not possess the necessary signals for retention in the sieve element–companion cell complex. Several sink tissues possess plasmodesmata with a high-molecular-size exclusion limit, potentially allowing the nonspecific escape of a wide range of small (<50-kDa) macromolecules from the phloem. Larger macromolecules and systemic mRNAs appear to require facilitated transport through sink plasmodesmata. The fate of phloem-mobile macromolecules is considered in relation to current models of long-distance signaling in plants.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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