Phytochrome A is an irradiance-dependent red light sensor


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Plants perceive red (R) and far-red (FR) light signals using the phytochrome family of photoreceptors. In Arabidopsis thaliana, five phytochromes (phyA–phyE) have been identified and characterized. Unlike other family members, phyA is subject to rapid light-induced proteolytic degradation and so accumulates to relatively high levels in dark-grown seedlings. The insensitivity of phyA mutant seedlings to prolonged FR and wild-type appearance in R has led to suggestions that phyA functions predominantly as an FR sensor during the early stages of seedling establishment. The majority of published photomorphogenesis experiments have, however, used <50 µmol m−2 sec−1 of R when characterizing phytochrome functions. Here we reveal considerable phyA activity in R at higher (>160 µmol m−2 sec−1) photon irradiances. Under these conditions, plant architecture was observed to be largely regulated by the redundant actions of phytochromes A, B and D. Moreover, quadruple phyBphyCphyDphyE mutants containing only functional phyA displayed R-mediated de-etiolation and survived to flowering. The enhanced activity of phyA in continuous R (Rc) of high photon irradiance correlates with retarded degradation of the endogenous protein in wild-type plants and prolonged epifluorescence of nuclear-localized phyA:YFP in transgenic lines. Such observations suggest irradiance-dependent ‘photoprotection’ of nuclear phyA in R, providing a possible explanation for the increased activity observed. The discovery that phyA can function as an effective irradiance sensor, even in light environments that establish a high Pfr concentration, raises the possibility that phyA may contribute significantly to the regulation of growth and development in daylight-grown plants.