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Plant Physiol. 1999 Dec;121(4):1309-20.

Increased respiratory restriction during phosphate-limited growth in transgenic tobacco cells lacking alternative oxidase.

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Division of Life Science and Department of Botany, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada M1C 1A4.


We found that mitochondrial alternative oxidase (AOX) protein and the capacity for CN-resistant respiration are dramatically increased in wild-type tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) suspension-cultured cells in response to growth under P limitation, and antisense (AS8) tobacco cells unable to induce AOX under these conditions have altered growth and metabolism. Specifically, we found that the respiration of AS8 cells was restricted during P-limited growth, when the potential for severe adenylate control of respiration (at the level of C supply to the mitochondrion and/or at the level of oxidative phosphorylation) is high due to the low cellular levels of ADP and/or inorganic P. As a result of this respiratory restriction, AS8 cells had altered growth, morphology, cellular composition, and patterns of respiratory C flow to amino acid synthesis compared with wild-type cells with abundant AOX protein. Also, AS8 cells under P limitation displayed high in vivo rates of generation of active oxygen species compared with wild-type cells. This difference could be abolished by an uncoupler of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation. Our results suggest that induction of non-phosphorylating AOX respiration (like induction of adenylate and inorganic P-independent pathways in glycolysis) is an important plant metabolic adaptation to P limitation. By preventing severe respiratory restriction, AOX acts to prevent both redirections in C metabolism and the excessive generation of harmful active oxygen species in the mitochondrion.

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