The role of photorespiration during drought stress: an analysis utilizing barley mutants with reduced activities of photorespiratory enzymes


Astrid Wingler Fax: +41 61 267 2330: e-mail:


Ci, intercellular CO2 concentration
Fv/Fm, quantum efficiency of excitation capture by open photosystem II centres
FBPase, fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase
GAPDH, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase
GDC, glycine decarboxylase
GS-2, chloroplastic glutamine synthetase
HPR, hydroxypyruvate reductase
PFD, photon flux density
ΦCO2, quantum efficiency of CO2 assimilation
ΦPSII, quantum efficiency of photosystem II electron transport
ψ, water potential
qN, non-photochemical chlorophyll a fluorescence quenching
qP, photochemical chlorophyll a fluorescence quenching
RuBP, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate
Rubisco, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase
SBPase, sedoheptulose-1,7-bisphosphatase
SGAT, serine : glyoxylate aminotransferase

The significance of photorespiration in drought-stressed plants was studied by withholding water from wild-type barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) and from heterozygous mutants with reduced activities of chloroplastic glutamine synthetase (GS-2), glycine decarboxylase (GDC) or serine : glyoxylate aminotransferase (SGAT). Well-watered plants of all four genotypes had identical rates of photosynthesis. Under moderate drought stress (leaf water potentials between –1 and –2 MPa), photosynthesis was lower in the mutants than in the wild type, indicating that photorespiration was increased under these conditions. Analysis of chlorophyll a fluorescence revealed that, in the GDC and SGAT mutants, the lower rates of photosynthesis coincided with a decreased quantum efficiency of photosystem II and increased non-photochemical dissipation of excitation energy. Correspondingly, the de-epoxidation state of xanthophyll-cycle carotenoids was increased several-fold in the drought-stressed GDC and SGAT mutants compared with the wild type. Accumulation of glycine in the GDC mutant was further evidence for increased photorespiration in drought-stressed barley. The effect of drought on the photorespiratory enzymes was determined by immunological detection of protein abundance. While the contents of GS-2 and P- and H-protein of the GDC complex remained unchanged as drought stress developed, the content of NADH-dependent hydroxypyruvate reductase increased. Enzymes of the Benson–Calvin cycle, on the other hand, were either not affected (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase and plastidic fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase) or declined (sedoheptulose- 1,7-bisphosphatase and NADP-dependent glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase). These data demonstrate that photorespiration was enhanced during drought stress in barley and that the control exerted by photorespiratory enzymes on the rate of photosynthetic electron transport and CO2 fixation was increased.