Water is crucial to plant growth and development. Environmental water deficiency triggers an osmotic stress signalling cascade, which induces short-term cellular responses to reduce water loss and long-term responses to remodel the transcriptional network and physiological and developmental processes1, 2, 3, 4. Several signalling components that have been identified by extensive genetic screens for altered sensitivities to osmotic stress seem to function downstream of the perception of osmotic stress. It is known that hyperosmolality and various other stimuli trigger increases in cytosolic free calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i)5, 6. Considering that in bacteria and animals osmosensing Ca2+ channels serve as osmosensors7, 8, hyperosmolality-induced [Ca2+]i increases have been widely speculated to be involved in osmosensing in plants1, 9. However, the molecular nature of corresponding Ca2+ channels remain unclear6, 10, 11. Here we describe a hyperosmolality-gated calcium-permeable channel and its function in osmosensing in plants. Using calcium-imaging-based unbiased forward genetic screens we isolated Arabidopsis mutants that exhibit low hyperosmolality-induced [Ca2+]i increases. These mutants were rescreened for their cellular, physiological and developmental responses to osmotic stress, and those with clear combined phenotypes were selected for further physical mapping. One of the mutants, reduced hyperosmolality-induced [Ca2+]i increase 1 (osca1), displays impaired osmotic Ca2+ signalling in guard cells and root cells, and attenuated water transpiration regulation and root growth in response to osmotic stress. OSCA1 is identified as a previously unknown plasma membrane protein and forms hyperosmolality-gated calcium-permeable channels, revealing that OSCA1 may be an osmosensor. OSCA1 represents a channel responsible for [Ca2+]i increases induced by a stimulus in plants, opening up new avenues for studying Ca2+ machineries for other stimuli and providing potential molecular genetic targets for engineering drought-resistant crops.
Via Christophe Jacquet