Substrate cycles, also called "futile" cycles, are ubiquitous and lead to a net consumption of ATP which, in the normoxic maize root, have been estimated at about 50% of the total ATP produced [Alonso, A.P., Vigeolas, H., Raymond, P., Rolin, D., Dieuaide-Noubhani, M., 2005. A new substrate cycle in plants. Evidence for a high glucose-phosphate-to-glucose turnover from in vivo steady-state and pulse-labeling experiments with [(13)C] glucose and [(14)C] glucose. Plant Physiol. 138, 2220-2232]. To evaluate their role we studied the substrate cycles of maize root tips under an oxygen limitation of respiration (3% O(2)). Short-time labeling experiments with [U-(14)C]-Glc were performed to quantify the fluxes through sucrose and starch cycles of synthesis and degradation. Steady-state labeling with [1-(13)C]-Glc followed by (1)H NMR and (13)C NMR analysis of sugars and free alanine was used to quantify fluxes in the central metabolic pathways, including the Glc-P/Glc cycle and the fructose-P/triose-P cycle of glycolysis. Comparison with results previously obtained in normoxia [Alonso et al., as mentioned above] showed that 3% O(2) induced fermentation and reduced respiration, which led to a lesser amount of ATP produced. The rates of Glc consumption, glycolytic flux and all substrate cycles were lower, but the proportion of ATP consumed in the substrate cycles remained unchanged. These findings suggest that substrate cycles are not a luxury but an integral part of the organization of the plant central metabolism.