Shedding (far-red) light on phytochrome mechanisms and responses in land plants

Plant Sci. 2014 Mar;217-218:36-46. doi: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2013.11.013. Epub 2013 Nov 28.


In order to monitor ambient light conditions, plants rely on functionally diversified photoreceptors. Among these, phytochromes perceive red (R) and far-red (FR) light. FR light does not constitute a photosynthetic energy source; it however influences adaptive and developmental processes. In seed plants, phytochrome A (phyA) acts as FR receptor and mediates FR high irradiance responses (FR-HIRs). It exerts a dual role by promoting e.g. germination and seedling de-etiolation in canopy shade and by antagonising shade avoidance growth. Even though cryptogam plants such as mosses and ferns do not have phyA, they show FR-induced responses. In the present review we discuss the mechanistic basis of phyA-dependent FR-HIRs as well as their dual role in seed plants. We compare FR responses in seed plants and cryptogam plants and conclude on different potential concepts for the detection of canopy shade. Scenarios for the evolution of FR perception and responses are discussed.

Keywords: Arabidopsis; D; Evolution; FR; Far-red high irradiance response; Network response; P(fr); P(r); Physcomitrella patens; Phytochrome; R; Shade avoidance response; dark; far-red light; far-red light absorbing form of phytochromes; red light; red light absorbing form of phytochromes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Light
  • Phytochrome A / metabolism*
  • Phytochrome B / metabolism*
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Plants / radiation effects*


  • Phytochrome A
  • Phytochrome B