Molecular control of ethylene production by cyanide in Arabidopsis thaliana

Jennifer Mc Mahon Smith, Richard N. Arteca

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47 Scopus citations


Although cyanide has long been recognized as a co-product of ethylene synthesis, little attention has been given to its potential physiological and molecular roles. In the present work, the long-term effects of cyanide on growth and development were observed in Arabidopsis thaliana. Two days after a single 20-min application of cyanide, plants demonstrated visible signs of stress. Long-term detrimental effects on growth and photosynthetic capabilities were noted, including low chlorophyll accumulation and stunted growth. Because of the relationship between cyanide and ethylene production, we chose to evaluate the results of cyanide treatment on genes encoding proteins involved in ethylene synthesis. We have found that only the 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid (ACC) synthase gene, ACS6, is rapidly activated in response to cyanide treatment, while other ACS genes were unaffected. This same gene has previously been shown to be transcriptionally activated in response to touch and other environmental stimuli. Cyanide was capable of activating ACS6 transcription within 10 min of treatment, and the amount of transcript correlated positively with the cyanide dosage. Due to the toxic nature of cyanide, plant in vivo concentrations are generally maintained lower than 10 μM, but can increase under certain stresses. In the present work, we observed that physiologically relevant concentrations as low as 1 μM HCN, considered metabolically 'safe', were capable of initiating ACS6 transcription. ACS6 transcripts were not substantially reduced as a result of multiple cyanide treatments, which is in contrast with the effects of mechanical stimulation on transcription. Our results suggest a relationship between cyanide production during ethylene synthesis and the molecular control of ethylene synthesis. This work corresponds with earlier experiments that have demonstrated that ethylene and cyanide can elicit some similar physiological responses. It is possible that cyanide may play an active role in ethylene regulation under conditions where rapid cyanide accumulation occurs. Since cyanide can rapidly activate ethylene synthesis, it is possible that it is involved in the positive-feedback regulation of ethylene that occurs in some plant tissues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-187
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiologia Plantarum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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