Environmental stresses of field growth allow cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase-deficient Nicotiana attenuata plants to compensate for their structural deficiencies

Harleen Kaur, Kamel Shaker, Nicolas Heinzel, John Ralph, Ivan Gális, Ian T. Baldwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


The organized lignocellulosic assemblies of cell walls provide the structural integrity required for the large statures of terrestrial plants. Silencing two CINNAMYL ALCOHOL DEHYDROGENASE (CAD) genes in Nicotiana attenuata produced plants (ir-CAD) with thin, red-pigmented stems, low CAD and sinapyl alcohol dehydrogenase activity, low lignin contents, and rubbery, structurally unstable stems when grown in the glasshouse (GH). However, when planted into their native desert habitat, ir-CAD plants produced robust stems that survived wind storms as well as the wild-type plants. Despite efficient silencing of NaCAD transcripts and enzymatic activity, field-grown ir-CAD plants had delayed and restricted spread of red stem pigmentation, a color change reflecting blocked lignification by CAD silencing, and attained wild-type-comparable total lignin contents. The rubbery GH phenotype was largely restored when field-grown ir-CAD plants were protected from wind, herbivore attack, and ultraviolet B exposure and grown in restricted rooting volumes; conversely, it was lost when ir-CAD plants were experimentally exposed to wind, ultraviolet B, and grown in large pots in growth chambers. Transcript and liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-time-of-flight analysis revealed that these environmental stresses enhanced the accumulation of various phenylpropanoids in stems of field-grown plants; gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance analysis revealed that the lignin of field-grown ir-CAD plants had GH-grown comparable levels of sinapaldehyde and syringaldehyde cross-linked into their lignins. Additionally, field-grown ir-CAD plants had short, thick stems with normal xylem element traits, which collectively enabled field-grown ir-CAD plants to compensate for the structural deficiencies associated with CAD silencing. Environmental stresses play an essential role in regulating lignin biosynthesis in lignin-deficient plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1545-1570
Number of pages26
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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