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Chloroplasts are but one type of a diverse group of essential organelles that distinguish plant cells and house many critical biochemical pathways, including photosynthesis. The biogenesis of plastids is essential to plant growth and development and relies on the targeting and import of thousands of nuclear-encoded proteins from the cytoplasm. The import of the vast majority of these proteins is dependent on translocons located in the outer and inner envelope membranes of the chloroplast, termed the Toc and Tic complexes, respectively. The core components of the Toc and Tic complexes have been identified within the last 12 years; however, the precise functions of many components are still being elucidated, and new components are still being identified. In Arabidopsis thaliana (and other species), many of the components are encoded by more than one gene, and it apperas that the isoforms differentially associate with structurally distinct import complexes. Furthermore, it appears that these complexes represent functionally distinct targeting pathways, and the regulation of import by these separate pathways may play a role in the differentiation and specific functions of distinct plastid types during plant growth and development. This review summarizes these recent discoveries and emphasizes the mechanisms of differential Toc complex assembly and substrate recognition.


This article was originally published in Canadian Journal of Botany, 84(4): 531-542. © 2006 National Research Council. Reproduced with permission