Metabolic activity decreases as an adaptive response to low internal oxygen in growing potato tubers

Biol Chem. 2000 Aug;381(8):723-40. doi: 10.1515/BC.2000.093.


Plants lack specialised organs and circulatory systems, and oxygen can fall to low concentrations in metabolically active, dense or bulky tissues. In animals that tolerate hypoxia or anoxia, low oxygen triggers an adaptive inhibition of respiration and metabolic activity. Growing potato tubers were used to investigate whether an analogous response exists in plants. Oxygen concentrations fall below 5% in the centre of growing potato tubers. This is accompanied by a decrease of the adenylate energy status, and alterations of metabolites that are indicative of a decreased rate of glycolysis. The response to low oxygen was investigated in more detail by incubating tissue discs from growing tubers for 2 hours at a range of oxygen concentrations. When oxygen was decreased in the range between 21% and 4% there was a partial inhibition of sucrose breakdown, glycolysis and respiration. The energy status of the adenine, guanine and uridine nucleotides decreased, but pyrophosphate levels remained high. The inhibition of sucrose breakdown and glycolysis was accompanied by a small increase of sucrose, fructose, glycerate-3-phosphate, phosphenolpyruvate, and pyruvate, a decrease of the acetyl-coenzymeA:coenzymeA ratio, and a small increase of isocitrate and 2-oxoglutarate. These results indicate that carbon fluxes are inhibited at several sites, but the primary site of action of low oxygen is probably in mitochondrial electron transport. Decreasing the oxygen concentration from 21% to 4% also resulted in a partial inhibition of sucrose uptake, a strong inhibition of amino acid synthesis, a decrease of the levels of cofactors including the adenine, guanine and uridine nucleotides and coenzymeA, and attenuated the wounding-induced increase of respiration and invertase and phenylalanine lyase activity in tissue discs. Starch synthesis was maintained at high rates in low oxygen. Anoxia led to a diametrically opposed response, in which glycolysis rose 2-fold to support fermentation, starch synthesis was strongly inhibited, and the level of lactate and the lactate:pyruvate ratio and the triose-phosphate:glycerate-3-phosphate ratio increased dramatically. It is concluded that low oxygen triggers (i) a partial inhibition of respiration leading to a decrease of the cellular energy status and (ii) a parallel inhibition of a wide range of energy-consuming metabolic processes. These results have general implications for understanding the regulation of glycolysis, starch synthesis and other biosynthetic pathways in plants, and reveal a potential role for pyrophosphate in conserving energy and decreasing oxygen consumption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenine Nucleotides / metabolism
  • Cell Respiration / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Glycolysis / drug effects
  • Microelectrodes
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Oxygen / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Solanum tuberosum / metabolism*
  • Starch / metabolism
  • Sucrose / metabolism
  • Wounds and Injuries / metabolism


  • Adenine Nucleotides
  • Sucrose
  • Starch
  • Oxygen