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Planta. 1999 Aug 12;209(2):213-220.

Effect of nitrogen limitation on foliar antioxidants in relationship to other metabolic characteristics.

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  • 1Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0334, USA


The long-term effect of limiting soil nitrogen (N) availability on foliar antioxidants, thermal energy dissipation, photosynthetic and respiratory electron transport, and carbohydrates was investigated in Spinacia oleracea L. Starch, sucrose, and glucose accumulated in leaves of N-limited spinach at predawn, consistent with a downregulation of chloroplast processes by whole-plant sink limitation in response to a limited supply of N-based macromolecules throughout the plant. On a leaf-area or dry-weight basis, levels of chlorophyll, carotenoid pools, photosynthetic electron transport capacity, as well as activities for the predominantly chloroplast-localized antioxidant enzymes ascorbate peroxidase (EC and glutathione reductase (EC were much lower in N-limited versus N-replete plants. When expressed on a chlorophyll basis, foliar levels of all of these parameters were similar in N-replete versus N-limited plants. However, on a total-protein basis, antioxidant enzyme activities were higher in N-limited plants. Nitrogen-limited spinach showed higher levels of thermal energy dissipation and of zeaxanthin and antheraxanthin at midday, as well as slightly higher ascorbate contents relative to chlorophyll. These results indicate that strong, long-term N limitation led not only to alterations in the balance between different processes but also to an overall downregulation of light collection, photosynthetic electron transport capacity, and chloroplast-based antioxidant enzymes. This is further supported by the finding that glucose-feeding of excised leaves led to strong concomitant decreases in photosynthetic electron transport capacity and ascorbate peroxidase activity. On a leaf-area basis, neither superoxide dismutase (EC activity nor dark repiration rates showed a treatment effect. This indicates that overall mitochondrial electron transport activity does not decrease under long-term N limitation and is consistent with localization of an important fraction of foliar superoxide dismutase in mitochondria.

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