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J Exp Bot. 2000 Feb;51(343):227-37.

Rapid effects of nitrogen form on leaf morphogenesis in tobacco.

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Institut für Pflanzenernährung, Universität Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.


Ammonium (NH4+) instead of nitrate (NO3-) as the nitrogen (N) source for tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) cultivated in a pH-buffered nutrient solution resulted in decreased shoot and root biomass. Reduction of shoot fresh weight was mainly related to inhibition of leaf growth, which was already detectable after short-term NH4+ treatments of 24 h, and even at a moderate concentration level of 2 mM. Microscopic analysis of the epidermis of fully expanded leaves revealed a decrease in cell number (50%) and in cell size (30%) indicating that both cell division and cell elongation were affected by NH4+ application. Changes in various physiological parameters known to be associated with NH4(+)-induced growth depression were examined both in long-term and short-term experiments: the concentrations of total N, soluble sugars and starch as well as the osmotic potential, the apparent hydraulic conductivity and the rate of water uptake were not reduced by NH4+ treatments (duration 1-12 d), suggesting that leaf growth was neither limited by the availability of N and carbohydrates, nor by a lack of osmotica or water supply. Although the concentration of K+ in leaf press sap declined in expanding leaves by approximately 15% in response to NH4+ nutrition, limitation of mineral nutrients seems to be unlikely in view of the fast response of leaf growth at 24 h after the start of the NH4+ treatment. No inhibitory effects were observed when NH4+ and NO3- were applied simultaneously (each 1 mM) resulting in a NO3-/NH4+ net uptake ratio of 6:4. These findings suggest that the rapid inhibition of leaf growth was not primarily related to NH4+ toxicity, but to the lack of NO3(-)-supply. Growth inhibition of plants fed solely with NH4+ was associated with a 60% reduction of the zeatine + zeatine riboside (Z + ZR) cytokinin fraction in the xylem sap after 24 h. Furthermore Z + ZR levels declined to almost zero within the next 4 d after start of the NH4+ treatment. In contrast, the concentrations of the putative Z + ZR precursors isopentenyl-adenine and isopentenyl-adenosine (i-Ade + i-Ado) were not affected by NH4+ application. Since cytokinins are involved in the regulation of both cell division and cell elongation, it seems likely that the presence of NO3- is required to maintain biosynthesis and/or root to shoot transfer of cytokinins at a level that is sufficient to mediate normal leaf morphogenesis.

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