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Response of photosynthetic characteristics and antioxidant system in the leaves of safflower to NaCl and NaHCO3

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Compared with NaCl, NaHCO3 caused more serious oxidative damage and photosynthesis inhibition in safflower by down-regulating the expression of related genes.


Salt-alkali stress is one of the important factors that limit plant growth. NaCl and sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) are neutral and alkaline salts, respectively. This study investigated the physiological characteristics and molecular responses of safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) leaves treated with 200 mmol L−1 of NaCl or NaHCO3. The plants treated with NaCl treatment were less effective at inhibiting the growth of safflower, but increased the content of malondialdehyde (MDA) in leaves. Meanwhile, safflower alleviated stress damage by increasing proline (Pro), soluble protein (SP), and soluble sugar (SS). Both fresh weight and dry weight of safflower was severely decreased when it was subjected to NaHCO3 stress, and there was a significant increase in the permeability of cell membranes and the contents of osmotic regulatory substances. An enrichment analysis of the differentially expressed genes (DEGs) using Gene Ontology and the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes identified significant enrichment of photosynthesis and pathways related to oxidative stress. Furthermore, a weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) showed that the darkgreen module had the highest correlation with photosynthesis and oxidative stress traits. Large numbers of transcription factors, primarily from the MYB, GRAS, WRKY, and C2H2 families, were predicted from the genes within the darkgreen module. An analysis of physiological indicators and DEGs, it was found that under saline-alkali stress, genes related to chlorophyll synthesis enzymes were downregulated, while those related to degradation were upregulated, resulting in inhibited chlorophyll biosynthesis and decreased chlorophyll content. Additionally, NaCl and NaHCO3 stress downregulated the expression of genes related to the Calvin cycle, photosynthetic antenna proteins, and the activity of photosynthetic reaction centers to varying degrees, hindering the photosynthetic electron transfer process, suppressing photosynthesis, with NaHCO3 stress causing more pronounced adverse effects. In terms of oxidative stress, the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) did not change significantly under the NaCl treatment, but the contents of hydrogen peroxide and the rate of production of superoxide anions increased significantly under NaHCO3 stress. In addition, treatment with NaCl upregulated the levels of expression of the key genes for superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), peroxidase (POD), the ascorbate-glutathione cycle, and the thioredoxin-peroxiredoxin pathway, and increased the activity of these enzymes, thus, reducing oxidative damage. Similarly, NaHCO3 stress increased the activities of SOD, CAT, and POD and the content of ascorbic acid and initiated the glutathione-S-transferase pathway to remove excess ROS but suppressed the regeneration of glutathione and the activity of peroxiredoxin. Overall, both neutral and alkaline salts inhibited the photosynthetic process of safflower, although alkaline salt caused a higher level of stress than neutral salt. Safflower alleviated the oxidative damage induced by stress by regulating its antioxidant system.

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This research was supported by the Project funded by the Key Research and Development Program of Henan (Grant No. 231111110800).

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LL Song wrote the paper. YL Yu, HZ Chen, YW Feng, S Chen, HH Zhang, HJ Zhou formed the experiments and analyzed the data. L Meng and Y Wang conceived and designed the experiments. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Li Meng or Yue Wang.

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The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

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Communicated by Li Tian.

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Song, L., Yu, Y., Chen, H. et al. Response of photosynthetic characteristics and antioxidant system in the leaves of safflower to NaCl and NaHCO3. Plant Cell Rep 43, 146 (2024).

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