Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 1781–1790 | Cite as

Overall plant responses to Cd and Pb metal stress in maize: Growth pattern, ultrastructure, and photosynthetic activity

  • Francesca Figlioli
  • Maria Cristina Sorrentino
  • Valeria Memoli
  • Carmen Arena
  • Giulia Maisto
  • Simonetta Giordano
  • Fiore CapozziEmail author
  • Valeria Spagnuolo
Research Article


This study provides a full description of the responses of the crop energy plant Zea mays to stress induced by Cd and Pb, in view of a possible extensive use in phytoattenuation of metal-polluted soils. In this perspective, (i) the uptake capability in root and shoot, (ii) the changes in growth pattern and cytological traits, and (iii) the photosynthetic efficiency based on photochemistry and the level of key proteins were investigated in hydroponic cultures. Both metals were uptaken by maize, with a translocation factor higher for Cd than Pb, but only Cd-treated plants showed a reduced growth compared to control (i.e., a lower leaf number and a reduced plant height), with a biomass loss up to 40%, at the highest concentration of metal (10−3 M). The observation of cytological traits highlighted ultrastructural damages in the chloroplasts of Cd-treated plants. A decline of Rubisco and D1 was observed in plants under Cd stress, while a relevant increase of the same proteins was found in Pb-treated plants, along with an increase of chlorophyll content. Fluorescent emission measurements indicated that both metals induced an increase of NPQ, but only Cd at the highest concentration determined a significant decline of Fv/Fm. These results indicate a different response of Z. mays to individual metals, with Pb triggering a compensative response and Cd inducing severe morpho-physiological alterations at all investigated levels. Therefore, Z. mays could be successfully exploited in phytoattenuation of Pb-polluted soil, but only at very low concentrations of Cd to avoid severe plant damages and biomass loss.


Chloroplast ultrastructure Heavy metals Photochemistry Chlorophylls Zea mays 



We would like to thank Dr. Sergio Sorbo for his helpful collaboration in TEM observations.

Funding information

This work was financially supported by the Department of Biology of Federico II University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesca Figlioli
    • 1
  • Maria Cristina Sorrentino
    • 1
  • Valeria Memoli
    • 1
  • Carmen Arena
    • 1
  • Giulia Maisto
    • 1
  • Simonetta Giordano
    • 1
  • Fiore Capozzi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Valeria Spagnuolo
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità degli Studi di Napoli Federico IINaplesItaly

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