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J Exp Bot. 2002 May;53(371):1155-61.

Cavitation fatigue and its reversal in sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.).

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


"Cavitation fatigue" is the increased susceptibility of a xylem conduit to cavitation as a result of its prior cavitation. It was investigated whether cavitation fatigue induced in vivo could be repaired in intact plants. Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus L.) were subjected to soil drought in the greenhouse. Native embolism and vulnerability to cavitation was measured in well-watered controls and after 5 d and 10 d of controlled drought. A dramatic cavitation fatigue was observed where droughted xylem that was refilled in the laboratory developed up to 60 PLC (percentage loss of hydraulic conductivity) at -1 MPa versus only 5.2 PLC in non-droughted controls. Rewatered plants showed the complete reversal of cavitation fatigue over 4 d. Reversal of fatigue was correlated with the refilling of embolized vessels in the intact plants (r(2)=0.91, P<0.01), suggesting that xylem transport to fatigued vessels was required for their repair. The in vivo reversal of fatigue was partially duplicated in excised stem segments by perfusing them with root exudates from droughted (DR) and well-watered (WW) plants. The DR exudate had a greater effect, and this was associated with a greater pH in the DR versus WW saps, but there was no difference in total cation concentration. Perfusions with 2 mM CaCl(2) and KCl solutions also partially reversed cavitation fatigue as opposed to no effect with deionized water, suggesting a role of ions in addition to a pH effect. It is suspected that fatigue is caused by stretching and partial disruption of linkages between cellulose microfibrils in inter-conduit pit membranes during air seeding, and that the reversal of fatigue involves restoring these linkages by ingredients in xylem sap.

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