Elevated NO 2 damages the photosynthetic apparatus by inducing the accumulation of superoxide anions and peroxynitrite in tobacco seedling leaves

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2020 Jun 15;196:110534. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110534. Epub 2020 Apr 1.


This study aimed to further understand the toxicity of high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to plants, especially to plant photosynthesis. Tobacco plants in the six-leaf stage were exposed to 16.0 μL L-1 NO2 to determine the activities of photosystem II (PSII) and photosystem I (PSI) reaction centers, the blocking site of PSII electron transport, the degree of membrane peroxidation and the relative expression of PsbA, PsbO and PsaA genes in the third fully expanded leaves by using gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence techniques, biochemical and RT-PCR analysis. The results showed that 16.0 μL L-1 NO2 caused necrotic lesions to form on leaves and significantly increased the generation rate of superoxide anions (O2-) and the content of peroxynitrite (ONOO-) in leaves of tobacco seedling, leading to damage to cell membrane, chlorophyll content and net photosynthetic rate reduction, and photosynthetic apparatus destruction. Fumigation with 16.0 μL L-1 NO2 decreased the activity of PSII reaction center and oxygen evolution complex, and the relative expression of PabA in leaves of tobacco seedlings to inhibit the electron transport from the donor side to the receptor side of PSII, especially blocking the electron transport from QA to QB on the receptor side. The activity of the PSI reaction center and the relative expression of PsaA decreased, weakening the ability to accept electrons and inhibiting the electron transfer from PSII to PSI, which further increased the damage of PSII of tobacco seedling leaves caused by 16.0 μL L-1 NO2. Therefore, 16.0 μL L-1 NO2 leaded to the accumulation of O2- and ONOO-, which damaged the cell membrane and thylakoid membrane, inhibit the electron transport, and destroyed the photosynthetic apparatus in leaves of tobacco seedlings. The results from this study emphasized the importance of reducing the NO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

Keywords: Electron transport; Nitrogen dioxide; Oxygen evolving complex; Peroxynitrite; Photosynthetic apparatus; Superoxide anion.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Electron Transport / drug effects
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / toxicity*
  • Peroxynitrous Acid / metabolism*
  • Photosynthesis / drug effects*
  • Photosystem I Protein Complex / drug effects
  • Photosystem I Protein Complex / metabolism
  • Photosystem II Protein Complex / drug effects
  • Photosystem II Protein Complex / metabolism
  • Seedlings / drug effects
  • Seedlings / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism*
  • Tobacco / drug effects*
  • Tobacco / metabolism


  • Air Pollutants
  • Photosystem I Protein Complex
  • Photosystem II Protein Complex
  • Superoxides
  • Peroxynitrous Acid
  • Nitrogen Dioxide