Cold sensitivity of mitochondrial ATP synthase restricts oxidative phosphorylation in Arabidopsis thaliana

New Phytol. 2019 Mar;221(4):1776-1788. doi: 10.1111/nph.15509. Epub 2018 Nov 8.


The combined action of the electron transport chain (ETC) and ATP synthase is essential in determining energy efficiency in plants, and so is important for cellular biosynthesis, growth and development. Owing to the sessile nature of plants, mitochondria must operate over a wide temperature range in the environment, necessitating a broad temperature tolerance of their biochemical reactions. We investigated the temperature response of mitochondrial respiratory processes in isolated mitochondria and intact plants of Arabidopsis thaliana and considered the effect of instantaneous responses to temperature and acclimation responses to low temperatures. We show that at 4°C the plant mitochondrial ATP synthase is differentially inhibited compared with other elements of the respiratory pathway, leading to decreased ADP : oxygen ratios and a limitation to the rate of ATP synthesis. This effect persists in vivo and cannot be overcome by cold-temperature acclimation of plants. This mechanism adds a new element to the respiratory acclimation model and provides a direct means of temperature perception by plant mitochondria. This also provides an alternative explanation for non-phosphorylating ETC bypass mechanisms, like the alternative oxidase to maintain respiratory rates, albeit at lower ATP synthesis efficiency, in response to the sensitivity of ATP synthase to the prevailing temperature.

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; ATP synthase; cold acclimation; cold response; mitochondria; respiration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / physiology*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proton-Translocating ATPases / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / physiology
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Oxidoreductases
  • alternative oxidase
  • Mitochondrial Proton-Translocating ATPases