Thematic Article

Journal of Plant Growth Regulation

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 319-344

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Role of Abscisic Acid in Seed Dormancy

  • Allison R. KermodeAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University Email author 


Seed dormancy is an adaptive trait that improves survival of the next generation by optimizing the distribution of germination over time. The agricultural and forest industries rely on seeds that exhibit high rates of germination and vigorous, synchronous growth after germination; hence dormancy is sometimes considered an undesirable trait. The forest industry encounters problems with the pronounced dormancy of some conifer seeds, a feature that can lead to non-uniform germination and poor seedling vigor. In cereal crops, an optimum balance is most sought after; some dormancy at harvest is favored because it prevents germination of the physiologically mature grain in the head prior to harvest (that is, preharvest sprouting), a phenomenon that leads to considerable damage to grain quality and is especially prominent in cool moist environments. The sesquiterpene abscisic acid (ABA) regulates key events during seed formation, such as the deposition of storage reserves, prevention of precocious germination, acquisition of desiccation tolerance, and induction of primary dormancy. Its regulatory role is achieved in part by cross-talk with other hormones and their associated signaling networks, via mechanisms that are largely unknown. Quantitative genetics and functional genomics approaches will contribute to the elucidation of genes and proteins that control seed dormancy and germination, including components of the ABA signal transduction pathway. Dynamic changes in ABA biosynthesis and catabolism elicit hormone-signaling changes that affect downstream gene expression and thereby regulate critical checkpoints at the transitions from dormancy to germination and from germination to growth. Some of the recent developments in these areas are discussed.


Seed development Dormancy Germination Seedling vigor Abscisic acid ABA biosynthesis/catabolism Hormonal cross-talk Signal transduction