Acta Physiologiae Plantarum

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 985–999 | Cite as

Heavy metal-induced oxidative damage, defense reactions, and detoxification mechanisms in plants

  • Oksana Sytar
  • Abhay Kumar
  • Dariusz Latowski
  • Paulina Kuczynska
  • Kazimierz Strzałka
  • M. N. V. Prasad


Heavy metal (HMs) contamination is widespread globally due to anthropogenic, technogenic, and geogenic activities. The HMs exposure could lead to multiple toxic effects in plants by inducing reactive oxygen species (ROS), which inhibit most cellular processes at various levels of metabolism. ROS being highly unstable could play dual role (1) damaging cellular components and (2) act as an important secondary messenger for inducing plant defense system. Cells are equipped with enzymatic and non-enzymatic defense mechanisms to counteract this damage. Some are constitutive and others that are activated only when a stress-specific signal is perceived. Enzymatic scavengers of ROS include superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione reductase, and peroxidase, while non-enzymatic antioxidants are glutathione, ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, flavonoids, anthocyanins, carotenoids, and organic acids. The intracellular and extracellular chelation mechanisms of HMs are associated with organic acids such as citric, malic and oxalic acid, etc. The important mechanism of detoxification includes metal complexation with glutathione, amino acids, synthesis of phytochelatins and sequestration into the vacuoles. Excessive stresses induce a cascade, MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathway and synthesis of metal-detoxifying ligands. Metal detoxification through MAPK cascade and synthesis of metal-detoxifying ligands will be of considerable interest in the field of plant biotechnology. Further, the photoprotective roles of pigments of xanthophylls cycle under HMs stress were also discussed.


Antioxidants Flavonoids Heavy metals MAPK pathway Oxidative stress Phenolic compounds Phytochelatins 



Accumulating ecotype


Ascorbate peroxidases


Ascorbic acid








Electron transport chain






Glutathione reductase


Glutathione (reduced)


Glutathione (oxidized)




Heavy metals


Hydrogen peroxide




Lipid peroxidation


Mitogen-activated protein kinase


MAPK kinase


MAPK kinase kinase






Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (oxidized)


Reduced NAD


Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (oxidized)


Reduced NADP


Non-accumulating ecotype


Superoxide radical




Phytochelatins synthase




Photosystem II


Photosystem I


Poly unsaturated fatty acids


Reactive oxygen species


Superoxide dismutase





O.S. gratefully acknowledges the award of 3-month research training scholarship by the Centre for International Co-operation in Science (CICS) (Formerly CCSTDS) Chennai, India, which was hosted by MNVP. A.K. gratefully acknowledges University of Hyderabad Research Scholarship through the University Grant Commission, New Delhi. M.N.V.P. gratefully acknowledge the award of Pitamber Pant National Environment Fellowship by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, GOI, New Delhi (MoEF Ref. No. 17/3/2010-RE Dt 29-2-2012).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Franciszek Górski Institute of Plant Physiology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oksana Sytar
    • 1
    • 2
  • Abhay Kumar
    • 1
  • Dariusz Latowski
    • 3
  • Paulina Kuczynska
    • 3
  • Kazimierz Strzałka
    • 3
  • M. N. V. Prasad
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of HyderabadHyderabadIndia
  2. 2.Department of Plant Physiology and EcologyKyiv National University of Taras ShevchenkoKyivUkraine
  3. 3.Departament of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, Faculty of Biochemistry, Biophysics and BiotechnologyJagiellonian UniversityKrakowPoland

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