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Accumulation of nitrate in the shoot acts as a signal to regulate shoot-root allocation in tobacco

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Scheible, W.-R., Lauerer, M., Schulze, E.-D., Caboche, M., & Stitt, M. (1997). Accumulation of nitrate in the shoot acts as a signal to regulate shoot-root allocation in tobacco. The Plant Journal, 11(4), 671-691. doi:10.1046/j.1365-313X.1997.11040671.x.

Mutants and transformants of tobacco (Nicotiania tabacum L. cv Gatersleben 1) with decreased expression of nitrate reductase have been used to investigate whether nitrate accumulation in the shoot acts as a signal to alter allocation between shoot and root growth. (a) Transformants with very low (1–3% of wild-type levels) nitrate reductase activity had growth rates, and protein, amino acid and glutamine levels similar to or slightly lower than a nitrate-limited wild-type, but accumulated large amounts of nitrate. These plants should resemble a nitrate-limited wild-type, except in responses where nitrate acts as a signal. (b) Whereas the shoot:root ratio decreases from about 3.5 in a well-fertilized wild-type to about 2 in a nitrate-limited wild-type, the transformants had a very high shoot:root ratio (8–10) when they were grown on high nitrate. When they were grown on lower nitrate concentrations their shoot:root ratio declined progressively to a value similar to that in nitrate-limited wild-types. Mutants with a moderate (30–50%) decrease of nitrate reductase also had a small but highly significant increase of their shoot:root ratio, compared to the wild-type. The increased shoot:root ratio in the mutants and transformants was due to a stimulation of shoot growth and an inhibition of root growth. (c) There was a highly significant correlation between leaf nitrate content and the shoot:root ratio for eight genotypes growing at a wide range of nitrate supply. (d) A similar increase of the shoot:root ratio in nitrate reductase-deficient plants, and correlation between leaf nitrate content and the shoot:root ratio, was found in plants growing on ammonium nitrate. (f) Split-root experiments, in which the transformants were grown with part of their root system in high nitrate and the other part in low nitrate, showed that root growth is inhibited by the accumulation of nitrate in the shoot. High concentrations of nitrate in the rooting medium actually stimulate local root growth. (g) The inhibition of root growth in the transformants was relieved when the transformants were grown on limiting phosphate, even though the nitrate content of the root remained high. This shows that the nitrate-dependent changes in allocation can be overridden by other signals that increase allocation to root growth. (h) The reasons for the changed allocation were investigated in transformants growing normally, and in split-root culture. Accumulation of nitrate in the shoot did not lead to decreased levels of amino acids or protein in the roots. However, it did lead to a strong inhibition of starch synthesis and turnover in the leaves, and to decreased levels of sugars in the root. The rate of root growth was correlated with the root sugar content. It is concluded that these changes of carbon allocation could contribute to the changes in shoot and root growth.