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Keywords:

  • germination;
  • light-mediated responses;
  • nitrate reductase;
  • nitric oxide;
  • nitric oxide synthase;
  • oxidative stress;
  • plant hormones;
  • signal transduction;
  • stress tolerance

ABSTRACT

Nitric oxide (NO) is a bioactive molecule that exerts a number of diverse activities in phylogenetically distant species, as well as opposing effects in related biological systems. It was firstly described in mammals as a major messenger in the cardiovascular, immune and nervous system, in which it plays regulatory, signalling, cytoprotective and cytotoxic effects (Ignarro, Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology 30, 535–560, 1990; Anbar, Experientia 51, 545–550, 1995). This versatility is mainly achieved through interactions with targets via either a redox or an additive chemistry (Stamler, Cell 78, 931–936, 1994). For this reason, metal- and thiol-containing proteins serve as major target sites for NO: these include signalling proteins, receptors, enzymes, transcription factors and DNA, among others. Furthermore, NO is a small, highly diffusible molecule. It rapidly crosses biological membranes and triggers various different processes in a short period of time. In this context, NO can co-ordinate and regulate cellular functions of microsomes and organelles such as mitochondria. The ubiquity of NO reactions, as well as the finding that the biochemical and molecular mechanisms underlying many physiological processes are well conserved between diverse species, have opened the exploration of NO chemistry in different organisms. Among these, plants were not the exception. The research in plants has been focused on three main fields: (i) the search for NO or any source of NO generation; (ii) the examination of the effects of NO upon exogenous treatments; and (iii) the search for the same molecules involved in NO-sensitive transduction pathways as in animals (e.g. cGMP, Ca2+, calmodulin). As it is evident from this review, recent progress on NO functionality in plants has been impressive. With the use of biochemistry, molecular genetics and structural biology, together with classical physiological approaches, an explosion of new discoveries will surely begin. It is certainly a good time for plant biologists.