SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

An understanding of the mechanisms underlying ammonium (NH4+) toxicity in plants requires prior knowledge of the metabolic uses for nitrogen (N) and carbon (C). We have recently shown that pea plants grown at high NH4+ concentrations suffer an energy deficiency associated with a disruption of ionic homeostasis. Furthermore, these plants are unable to adequately regulate internal NH4+ levels and the cell-charge balance associated with cation uptake. Herein we show a role for an extra-C application in the regulation of C–N metabolism in NH4+-fed plants. Thus, pea plants (Pisum sativum) were grown at a range of NH4+ concentrations as sole N source, and two light intensities were applied to vary the C supply to the plants. Control plants grown at high NH4+ concentration triggered a toxicity response with the characteristic pattern of C-starvation conditions. This toxicity response resulted in the redistribution of N from amino acids, mostly asparagine, and lower C/N ratios. The C/N imbalance at high NH4+ concentration under control conditions induced a strong activation of root C metabolism and the upregulation of anaplerotic enzymes to provide C intermediates for the tricarboxylic acid cycle. A high light intensity partially reverted these C-starvation symptoms by providing higher C availability to the plants. The extra-C contributed to a lower C4/C5 amino acid ratio while maintaining the relative contents of some minor amino acids involved in key pathways regulating the C/N status of the plants unchanged. C availability can therefore be considered to be a determinant factor in the tolerance/sensitivity mechanisms to NH4+ nutrition in plants.