Plant Growth Regulation

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 79–102 | Cite as

Metabolic implications of stress-induced proline accumulation in plants

  • P.D. Hare
  • W.A. Cress


In many plants, free proline accumulates in response to the imposition of a wide range of biotic and abiotic stresses. Controversy has surrounded the extent to which this shift in nitrogen metabolism benefits plants under adverse environmental conditions. Most attempts to account for the phenomenon have focused on the ability of proline to mediate osmotic adjustment, stabilise subcellular structures and scavenge free radicals. However, often the cytoplasmic pool of free proline even after the imposition of stress is insufficient size to account for pronounced biophysical effects.

Alternatively, selective preservation of this stress-induced response may relate to endpoints other than simply augmenting the cellular pool of free proline. Proline accumulation may reduce stress-induced cellular acidification or prime oxidative respiration to provide energy needed for recovery. High levels of proline synthesis during stress may maintain NAD(P)+/NAD(P)H ratios at values compatible with metabolism under normal conditions. Consideration of the cofactor preference of plant Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate (P5C) reductase as well as the in vivo concentrations of the two pyridine nucleotide cofactors and their respective redox ratios suggests that even a small increase in proline biosynthesis might have a large impact on the level of reduction of the cellular NADP pool. The increased NADP+/NADPH ratio mediated by proline biosynthesis is likely to enhance activity of the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway. This would provide precursors to support the demand for increased secondary metabolite production during stress as well as nucleotide synthesis accompanying the accelerated rate of cell division upon relief from stress, when oxidation of proline is likely to provide an important energy source for ADP phosphorylation. Thus, the extreme sensitivity of the metabolic processes of proline synthesis and degradation themselves may be of benefit by regulating metabolic processes adversely affected by stress. This viewpoint is supported by consideration of other physiological phenomena not directly related to stress responses, but in which proline metabolism may also play a regulatory role.

A mechanism is proposed whereby the interconversions of proline and P5C in different cell types and the associated transfer of redox potential between tissues may constitute a form of metabolic signalling within higher plants. Stress-related alterations in proline metabolism may impinge on systems of redox control of plant gene expression.

environmental stress metabolic regulation oxidative pentose phosphate pathway proline pyrroline-5-carboxylate reductase signal transduction 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natal University Research Unit for Plant Growth and Development, Department of BotanyUniversity of Natal PietermaritzburgScottsvilleSouth Africa

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