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Tennessee Plant Research Center    

Tessa Burch-Smith, Ph. D.

Biochemistry, Cellular & Molecular Biology

Phone: (865) 974-6203


The broad focus of my lab is the fundamental process of intercellular transport between plant cells. This is largely accomplished via cell wall-localized channels called plasmodesmata (PD).  PD facilitate the passive intercellular movement of water, ions and small molecules. They also allow transport of macromolecules including developmentally important transcription factors and mircoRNAs, siRNAs and viruses. PD themselves are regulated during development, as simple linear channels give rise to elaborate branched channels during tissue maturation. PD are also regulated by diverse environmental signals. Exciting recent results reveal that PD development and function are likely regulated by redox signals produced primarily by the chloroplasts.
Research in my lab has two main goals. The first is to understand how these chloroplast-generated signals impinge on PD development and function in the cell wall. The second goal of our research is to develop a more complete understanding of PD structure, and how it is modified during development and in response to environmental signals. We will also examine how PD structure changes during virus infection, in an effort to understand how viruses hijack these channels to spread from cell to cell. We are taking various biochemical, molecular and cell biological approaches to achieve these aims. These studies will illuminate the longstanding question of how PD regulate intercellular communication during plant growth, development and defense.

Recent Publications

  1. Burch-Smith, T. M., Cui, Y. and Zambryski, P. C. (2012) Reduced levels of class 1 reversibly gycosylated polypeptide increase intercellular transport via plasmodesmata. Plant Signal. Behav. 7(1): 62-7.
  2. Burch-Smith, T. M., Brunkard, J. O., Choi, Y. G. and Zambryski, P. C. (2011) Organelle-nucleus cross-talk regulates plant intercellular communication via plasmodesmata. PNAS 108(51): E1451-60.
  3. Burch-Smith, T. M., Stonebloom, S., Xu, M. and  Zambryski PC. (2011) Plasmodesmata during development: re-examination of the importance of primary, secondary, and branched plasmodesmata structure versus function. Protoplasma 248(1): 61-74
  4. Burch-Smith, T. M. and Zambryski, P. C. (2010) Loss of INCREASED SIZE EXCLUSION LIMIT (ISE)1 or ISE2 increases the formation of secondary plasmodesmata. Current Biology 20 (11): 989-93.
  5. Stonebloom, S., Burch-Smith, T., Kim, I., Meinke, D. and Zambryski, P. (2009) Loss of    the plant DEAD-box protein ISE1 leads to defective mitochondria and increased cell-to-cell transport via plasmodesmata. PNAS 106(40): 17229-34.


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