Plasmodesmata (singular: plasmodesma) are microscopic channels which traverse the cell walls of plant cells and some algal cells, enabling transport and communication between them. Plasmodesmata evolved independently in several lineages, and species that have these structures include members of the Charophyceae, Charales, Coleochaetales and Phaeophyceae (which are all algae), as well as all embryophytes, better known as land plants. Unlike animal cells, almost every plant cell is surrounded by a polysaccharide cell wall. Neighbouring plant cells are therefore separated by a pair of cell walls and the intervening middle lamella, forming an extracellular domain known as the apoplast. Although cell walls are permeable to small soluble proteins and other solutes, plasmodesmata enable direct, regulated, symplastic transport of substances between cells. There are two forms of plasmodesmata: primary plasmodesmata, which are formed during cell division, and secondary plasmodesmata, which can form between mature cells.
Primary plasmodesmata are formed when portions of the endoplasmic reticulum are trapped across the middle lamella as new cell wall is laid down between two newly divided plant cells and these eventually become the cytoplasmic connections between cells. Here the wall is not thickened further, and depressions or thin areas known as pits are formed in the walls. Pits normally pair up between adjacent cells. Plasmodesmata can also be inserted into existing cell walls between non-dividing cells (secondary plasmodesmata)
Plasmodesmatal plasma membrane:
A typical plant cell may have between 103 and 105 plasmodesmata connecting it with adjacent cells equating to between 1 and 10 per µm2 Plasmodesmata are approximately 50-60 nm in diameter at the midpoint and are constructed of three main layers, the plasma membrane, the cytoplasmic sleeve, and the desmotubule. They can transverse cell walls that are up to 90 nm thick.
The plasma membrane portion of the plasmodesma is a continuous extension of the cell membrane or plasmalemma and has a similar phospholipid bilayer structure.
The cytoplasmic sleeve is a fluid-filled space enclosed by the plasmalemma and is a continuous extension of the cytosol. Trafficking of molecules and ions through plasmodesmata occurs through this space. Smaller molecules (e.g. sugars and amino acids) and ions can easily pass through plasmodesmata by diffusion without the need for additional chemical energy. Larger molecules, including proteins (for example Green fluorescent protein) and RNA, can also pass through the cytoplasmic sleeve diffusively. Plasmodesmatal transport of some larger molecules is facilitated by mechanisms that are currently unknown. One mechanism of regulation of the permeability of plasmodesmata is the accumulation of the polysaccharide callose around the neck region to form a collar, thereby reducing the diameter of the pore available for transport of substances.
The desmotubule is a tube of appressed (flattened) endoplasmic reticulum that runs between two adjacent cells. Some molecules are known to be transported through this channel, but it is not thought to be the main route for plasmodesmatal transport.