Plant Nitrogen Acquisition Under Low Availability: Regulation of Uptake and Root Architecture

Plant Cell Physiol. 2016 Apr;57(4):707-14. doi: 10.1093/pcp/pcw052. Epub 2016 Mar 29.


Nitrogen availability is a major factor determining plant growth and productivity. Plants acquire nitrogen nutrients from the soil through their roots mostly in the form of ammonium and nitrate. Since these nutrients are scarce in natural soils, plants have evolved adaptive responses to cope with the environment. One of the most important responses is the regulation of nitrogen acquisition efficiency. This review provides an update on the molecular determinants of two major drivers of the nitrogen acquisition efficiency: (i) uptake activity (e.g. high-affinity nitrogen transporters) and (ii) root architecture (e.g. low-nitrogen-availability-specific regulators of primary and lateral root growth). Major emphasis is laid on the regulation of these determinants by nitrogen supply at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels, which enables plants to optimize nitrogen acquisition efficiency under low nitrogen availability.

Keywords: Acquisition efficiency; Limitation; Nitrogen nutrient; Root architecture; Uptake.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Nitrogen / pharmacokinetics
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism*
  • Plant Roots / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Roots / growth & development
  • Plant Roots / metabolism*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational


  • Nitrates
  • Plant Proteins
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrogen