Inhibition of photosynthesis by heat stress: the activation state of Rubisco as a limiting factor in photosynthesis

Physiol Plant. 2004 Feb;120(2):179-186. doi: 10.1111/j.0031-9317.2004.0173.x.


Although the catalytic activity of Rubisco increases with temperature, the low affinity of the enzyme for CO(2) and its dual nature as an oxygenase limit the possible increase in net photosynthesis with temperature. For cotton, comparisons of measured rates of net photosynthesis with predicted rates that take into account limitations imposed by the kinetic properties of Rubisco indicate that direct inhibition of photosynthesis occurs at temperatures higher than about 30 degrees C. Inhibition of photosynthesis by moderate heat stress (i.e. 30-42 degrees C) is generally attributed to reduced rates of RuBP regeneration caused by disruption of electron transport activity, and specifically inactivation of the oxygen evolving enzymes of photosystem II. However, measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence and metabolite levels at air-levels of CO(2) indicate that electron transport activity is not limiting at temperatures that inhibit CO(2) fixation. Instead, recent evidence shows that inhibition of net photosynthesis correlates with a decrease in the activation state of Rubisco in both C(3) and C(4) plants and that this decrease in the amount of active Rubisco can fully account for the temperature response of net photosynthesis. Biochemically, the decrease in Rubisco activation can be attributed to: (1) more rapid de-activation of Rubisco caused by a faster rate of dead-end product formation; and (2) slower re-activation of Rubisco by activase. The net result is that as temperature increases activase becomes less effective in keeping Rubisco catalytically competent. In this opinionated review, we discuss how these processes limit photosynthetic performance under moderate heat stress.