GABA signalling modulates plant growth by directly regulating the activity of plant-specific anion transporters
The non-protein amino acid, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) rapidly accumulates in plant tissues in response to biotic and abiotic stress, and regulates plant growth. Until now it was not known whether GABA exerts its effects in plants through the regulation of carbon metabolism or via an unidentified signalling pathway. Here, we demonstrate that anion flux through plant aluminium-activated malate transporter (ALMT) proteins is activated by anions and negatively regulated by GABA. Site-directed mutagenesis of selected amino acids within ALMT proteins abolishes GABA efficacy but does not alter other transport properties. GABA modulation of ALMT activity results in altered root growth and altered root tolerance to alkaline pH, acid pH and aluminium ions. We propose that GABA exerts its multiple physiological effects in plants via ALMT, including the regulation of pollen tube and root growth, and that GABA can finally be considered a legitimate signalling molecule in both the plant and animal kingdoms.