The role of alpha-tocopherol in plant stress tolerance

J Plant Physiol. 2005 Jul;162(7):743-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jplph.2005.04.022.


Environmental stresses trigger a wide variety of plant responses, ranging from altered gene expression to changes in cellular metabolism and growth. A plethora of plant reactions exist to circumvent the potentially harmful effects caused by light, drought, salinity, extreme temperatures, pathogen infections and other stresses. Alpha-tocopherol is the major vitamin E compound found in leaf chloroplasts, where it is located in the chloroplast envelope, thylakoid membranes and plastoglobuli. This antioxidant deactivates photosynthesis-derived reactive oxygen species (mainly 1O2 and OH), and prevents the propagation of lipid peroxidation by scavenging lipid peroxyl radicals in thylakoid membranes. Alpha-tocopherol levels change differentially in response to environmental constraints, depending on the magnitude of the stress and species-sensitivity to stress. Changes in alpha-tocopherol levels result from altered expression of pathway-related genes, degradation and recycling, and it is generally assumed that increases of alpha-tocopherol contribute to plant stress tolerance, while decreased levels favor oxidative damage. Recent studies indicate that compensatory mechanisms exist to afford adequate protection to the photosynthetic apparatus in the absence of alpha-tocopherol, and provide further evidence that it is the whole set of antioxidant defenses (ascorbate, glutathione, carotenoids, tocopherols and other isoprenoids, flavonoids and enzymatic antioxidants) rather than a single antioxidant, which helps plants to withstand environmental stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Environment
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • alpha-Tocopherol / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • alpha-Tocopherol