, Volume 256, Issue 1, pp 261–277 | Cite as

Stress-induced changes in the ultrastructure of the photosynthetic apparatus of green microalgae

  • Olga Gorelova
  • Olga Baulina
  • Tatiana Ismagulova
  • Kamilya Kokabi
  • Elena Lobakova
  • Irina Selyakh
  • Larisa Semenova
  • Olga Chivkunova
  • Olga Karpova
  • Pavel Scherbakov
  • Inna Khozin-Goldberg
  • Alexei SolovchenkoEmail author
Original Article


In photosynthetic organisms including unicellular algae, acclimation to and damage by environmental stresses are readily apparent at the level of the photosynthetic apparatus. Phenotypic manifestations of the stress responses include rapid and dramatic reduction of photosynthetic activity and pigment content aimed at mitigating the risk of photooxidative damage. Although the physiological and molecular mechanisms of these events are well known, the ultrastructural picture of the stress responses is often elusive and frequently controversial. We analyzed an extensive set of transmission electron microscopy images of the microalgal cells obtained across species of Chlorophyta and in a wide range of growth conditions. The results of the analysis allowed us to pinpoint distinct ultrastructural changes typical of normal functioning and emergency reduction of the chloroplast membrane system under high light exposure and/or mineral nutrient starvation. We demonstrate the patterns of the stress-related ultrastructural changes including peculiar thylakoid rearrangements and autophagy-like processes and provide an outlook on their significance for implementation of the stress responses.


Microalgae Chloroplast Chlorophyll degradation Glycolipids Nutrient starvation Thylakoid reorganization 



Appressed membrane pair thickness




Epichloroplastic membrane structures


Fatty acid methyl esters


Flame ionization detector


Hub-like structures




Non-photochemical quenching


Oil bodies


Prolamellar bodies


Photosynthetic apparatus


Rubisco-containing bodies


Chloroplast area


Protoplast area


Stroma with thylakoid membranes of the chloroplast


Area of the STM


Transmission electron microscopy


Thin-layer chromatography



High-pressure freezing and freeze-substitution of microalgal samples was performed in the research resource center “Molecular and cell technologies” of St. Petersburg State University.

Funding information

The electron microscopy studies were carried out at the User Facilities Center of M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University and jointly funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, Israel (grant 15-54-06004). Cultivation of microalgae was supported by the Ministry of Science and Education of the Russian Federation (the Agreement number 02.a03.21.0008 of 24 June 2016).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olga Gorelova
    • 1
  • Olga Baulina
    • 1
  • Tatiana Ismagulova
    • 1
  • Kamilya Kokabi
    • 2
  • Elena Lobakova
    • 1
  • Irina Selyakh
    • 1
  • Larisa Semenova
    • 1
  • Olga Chivkunova
    • 1
  • Olga Karpova
    • 1
  • Pavel Scherbakov
    • 1
  • Inna Khozin-Goldberg
    • 2
  • Alexei Solovchenko
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Bioengineering, Faculty of BiologyMoscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Microalgal Biotechnology Laboratory, The French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology for Drylands, The J. Blaustein Institutes for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of the NegevMidreshet Ben GurionIsrael
  3. 3.Peoples Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)MoscowRussia

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