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Plant tissues, particularly roots, can be subjected to periods of hypoxia due to environmental circumstances. Plants have developed various adaptations in response to hypoxic stress and these have been extensively described. Less well-appreciated is the body of evidence demonstrating that scavenging of nitric oxide (NO) and the reduction of nitrate/nitrite regulate important mechanisms that contribute to tolerance to hypoxia. Whilst ethylene controls hyponasty and aerenchyma formation, NO production apparently regulates hypoxic ethylene biosynthesis. In the hypoxic mitochondrion, cytochrome c oxidase, which is a major source of NO, is also inhibited by NO, thereby reducing the respiratory rate and enhancing local oxygen concentrations. Nitrite can maintain ATP generation under hypoxia by coupling its reduction to the translocation of protons from the inner side of mitochondria and generating an electrochemical gradient. This reaction can be further coupled to a reaction whereby non-symbiotic haemoglobin oxidizes NO to nitrate. In addition to these functions, nitrite has been reported to influence mitochondrial structure and supercomplex formation, as well as playing a role in oxygen sensing via the N-end rule pathway. These studies establish that nitrite and NO perform multiple functions during plant hypoxia and suggest that further research into the underlying mechanisms is warranted. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


New Phytol

Publication Date



cytochrome c oxidase, hyponasty, hypoxia, mitochondria, nitric oxide (NO), nitrite