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Dehydration-mediated activation of the xanthophyll cycle in darkness: is it related to desiccation tolerance?


The development of desiccation tolerance by vegetative tissues was an important step in the plants’ conquest of land. To counteract the oxidative stress generated under these conditions the xanthophyll cycle plays a key role. Recent reports have shown that desiccation itself induces de-epoxidation of xanthophyll cycle pigments, even in darkness. The aim of the present work was to study whether this trait is a common response of all desiccation-tolerant plants. The xanthophyll cycle activity and the maximal photochemical efficiency of PS II (F v/F m) as well as β-carotene and α-tocopherol contents were compared during slow and rapid desiccation and subsequent rehydration in six species pairs (with one desiccation-sensitive and one desiccation-tolerant species each) belonging to different taxa. Xanthophyll cycle pigments were de-epoxidised in darkness concomitantly with a decrease in F v/F m during slow dehydration in all the desiccation-tolerant species and in most of the desiccation-sensitive ones. De-epoxidation was reverted in darkness by re-watering in parallel with the recovery of the initial F v/F m. The stability of the β-carotene pool confirmed that its hydroxylation did not contribute to zeaxanthin formation. The α-tocopherol content of most of the species did not change during dehydration. Because it is a common mechanism present in all the desiccation-tolerant taxa and in some desiccation-sensitive species, and considering its role in antioxidant processes and in excess energy dissipation, the induction of the de-epoxidation of xanthophyll cycle pigments upon dehydration in the dark could be understood as a desiccation tolerance-related response maintained from the ancestral clades in the initial steps of land occupation by plants.

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F 0 :

Minimum chlorophyll fluorescence yield

F v :

Variable chlorophyll fluorescence

F v/F m :

Maximal photochemical efficiency of PS II




Relative humidity








Violaxanthin de-epoxidase




Zeaxanthin epoxidase


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We thank Richard Wilford from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (UK) for the donation of Ramonda leaves as well as Javier Martinez-Abaigar and Jose María Gorostiaga for bryophyte and algae identification, respectively. This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science [BFU 2010-15021] and by the Basque Government [UPV/EHU-GV IT-299-07]. B.F.M. received a fellowship from the Basque Government; UE09-48.

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Correspondence to B. Fernández-Marín.

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Fernández-Marín, B., Míguez, F., Becerril, J.M. et al. Dehydration-mediated activation of the xanthophyll cycle in darkness: is it related to desiccation tolerance?. Planta 234, 579 (2011).

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  • Darkness
  • Desiccation tolerance
  • Desiccation sensitivity
  • Oxidative stress
  • Rehydration
  • Xanthophyll cycle