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Contrasting patterns of hormonal and photoprotective isoprenoids in response to stress in Cistus albidus during a Mediterranean winter

  • Marina Pérez-Llorca
  • Andrea Casadesús
  • Sergi Munné-Bosch
  • Maren MüllerEmail author
Original Article


Main conclusion

Seasonal accumulation of hormonal and photoprotective isoprenoids, particularly α-tocopherol, carotenoids and abscisic acid, indicate their important role in protecting Cistus albidus plants from environmental stress during a Mediterranean winter. The high diurnal amounts of α-tocopherol and xanthophylls 3 h before maximum light intensity suggest a photoprotective response against the prevailing diurnal changes.


The timing to modulate acclimatory/defense responses under changing environmental conditions is one of the most critical points for plant fitness and stress tolerance. Here, we report seasonal and diurnal changes in the contents of isoprenoids originated from the methylerythritol phosphate pathway, including chlorophylls, carotenoids, tocochromanols, and phytohormones (abscisic acid, cytokinins, and gibberellins) in C. albidus during a Mediterranean winter. Plants were subjected not only to typically low winter temperatures but also to drought, as shown by a mean plant water status of 54% during the experimental period. The maximum PSII efficiency, however, remained consistently high (Fv/Fm > 0.8), proving that C. albidus had efficient mechanisms to tolerate combined stress conditions during winter. While seasonal α-tocopherol contents remained high (200–300 µg/g DW) during the experimental period, carotenoid contents increased during winter attaining maximum levels in February (minimum air temperature ≤ 5 °C for 13 days). Following the initial transient increases of bioactive trans-zeatin (about fivefold) during winter, the increased abscisic acid contents proved its important role during abiotic stress tolerance. Diurnal amounts of α-tocopherol and xanthophylls, particularly lutein, zeaxanthin and neoxanthin including the de-epoxidation state, reached maximum levels as early as 2 h after dawn, when solar intensity was 68% lower than the maximum solar radiation at noon. It is concluded that (1) given their proven antioxidant properties, both α-tocopherol and carotenoids seem to play a crucial role protecting the photosynthetic apparatus under severe stress conditions; (2) high seasonal amounts of abscisic acid indicate its important role in abiotic stress tolerance within plant hormones, although under specific environmental conditions, accumulation of bioactive cytokinins appears to be involved to enhance stress tolerance; (3) the concerted diurnal adjustment of α-tocopherol and xanthophylls as early as 3 h before maximum light intensity suggests that plants anticipated the predictable diurnal changes in the environment to protect the photosynthetic apparatus.


ABA Carotenoids Cold stress Drought Isoprenoids MEP-pathway Phytohormones Tocopherols 





De-epoxidation state




Methylerythritol phosphate




Relative water content




trans-Zeatin riboside


Xanthophyll cycle pool



We are grateful to Serveis Científico-Tècnics of the University of Barcelona for their help in the vitamin E and phytohormone analyses as well as to Serveis de Camps Experimentals (Faculty of Biology) for their technical assistance. This research was supported by the Spanish Government and the Generalitat de Catalunya through the BFU2015-64001P/MINECO/FEDER and the ICREA Academia prize given to SMB.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

425_2019_3234_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (1.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PPTX 1146 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Biodiversity Research Institute, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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