Evidence for a regulatory role of diatom silicon transporters in cellular silicon responses

Roshan P Shrestha, Mark Hildebrand
Eukaryotic Cell 2015, 14 (1): 29-40
The utilization of silicon by diatoms has both global and small-scale implications, from oceanic primary productivity to nanotechnological applications of their silica cell walls. The sensing and transport of silicic acid are key aspects of understanding diatom silicon utilization. At low silicic acid concentrations (<30 μM), transport mainly occurs through silicic acid transport proteins (SITs), and at higher concentrations it occurs through diffusion. Previous analyses of the SITs were done either in heterologous systems or without a distinction between individual SITs. In the present study, we examined individual SITs in Thalassiosira pseudonana in terms of transcript and protein abundance in response to different silicic acid regimes and examined knockdown lines to evaluate the role of the SITs in transport, silica incorporation, and lipid accumulation resulting from silicon starvation. SIT1 and SIT2 were localized in the plasma membrane, and protein levels were generally inversely correlated with cellular silicon needs, with a distinct response being found when the two SITs were compared. We developed highly effective approaches for RNA interference and antisense knockdowns, the first such approaches developed for a centric diatom. SIT knockdown differentially affected the uptake of silicon and the incorporation of silicic acid and resulted in the induction of lipid accumulation under silicon starvation conditions far earlier than in the wild-type cells, suggesting that the cells were artificially sensing silicon limitation. The data suggest that the transport role of the SITs is relatively minor under conditions with sufficient silicic acid. Their primary role is to sense silicic acid levels to evaluate whether the cell can proceed with its cell wall formation and division processes.

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