, Volume 370, Issue 1-2, pp 1-29
Date: 21 Feb 2013

Nitrogen acquisition by roots: physiological and developmental mechanisms ensuring plant adaptation to a fluctuating resource

Abstract

Background

Nitrogen (N) is one of the key mineral nutrients for plants and its availability has a major impact on their growth and development. Most often N resources are limiting and plants have evolved various strategies to modulate their root uptake capacity to compensate for both spatial and temporal changes in N availability in soil. The main N sources for terrestrial plants in soils of temperate regions are in decreasing order of abundance, nitrate, ammonium and amino acids. N uptake systems combine, for these different N forms, high- and low-affinity transporters belonging to multige families. Expression and activity of most uptake systems are regulated locally by the concentration of their substrate, and by a systemic feedback control exerted by whole-plant signals of N status, giving rise to a complex combinatory network. Besides modulation of the capacity of transport systems, plants are also able to modulate their growth and development to maintain N homeostasis. In particular, root system architecture is highly plastic and its changes can greatly impact N acquisition from soil.

Scope

In this review, we aim at detailing recent advances in the identification of molecular mechanisms responsible for physiological and developmental responses of root N acquisition to changes in N availability. These mechanisms are now unravelled at an increasing rate, especially in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana L.. Within the past decade, most root membrane transport proteins that determine N acquisition have been identified. More recently, molecular regulators in nitrate or ammonium sensing and signalling have been isolated, revealing common regulatory genes for transport system and root development, as well as a strong connection between N and hormone signalling pathways.

Conclusion

Deciphering the complexity of the regulatory networks that control N uptake, metabolism and plant development will help understanding adaptation of plants to sub-optimal N availability and fluctuating environments. It will also provide solutions for addressing the major issues of pollution and economical costs related to N fertilizer use that threaten agricultural and ecological sustainability.

Responsible Editor: Philippe Hinsinger.