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Plant Physiology 129 (4): 1908-1920

Copyright © 2002 by the American Society of Plant Physiologists.

Plant Physiol, August 2002, Vol. 129, pp. 1908-1920

Transgenic Plant Cells Lacking Mitochondrial Alternative Oxidase Have Increased Susceptibility to Mitochondria-Dependent and -Independent Pathways of Programmed Cell Death1

Christine A. Robson and Greg C. Vanlerberghe*

Division of Life Sciences and Department of Botany, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada M1C 1A4

The plant mitochondrial electron transport chain is branched such that electrons at ubiquinol can be diverted to oxygen via the alternative oxidase (AOX). This pathway does not contribute to ATP synthesis but can dampen the mitochondrial generation of reactive oxygen species. Here, we establish that transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L. cv Petit Havana SR1) cells lacking AOX (AS8 cells) show increased susceptibility to three different death-inducing compounds (H2O2, salicylic acid [SA], and the protein phosphatase inhibitor cantharidin) in comparison with wild-type cells. The timing and extent of AS8 cell death are very similar among the three treatments and, in each case, are accompanied by the accumulation of oligonucleosomal fragments of DNA, indicative of programmed cell death. Death induced by H2O2 or SA occurs by a mitochondria-dependent pathway characterized by cytochrome c release from the mitochondrion. Conversely, death induced by cantharidin occurs by a pathway without any obvious mitochondrial involvement. The ability of AOX to attenuate these death pathways may relate to its ability to maintain mitochondrial function after insult with a death-inducing compound or may relate to its ability to prevent chronic oxidative stress within the mitochondrion. In support of the latter, long-term treatment of AS8 cells with an antioxidant compound increased the resistance of AS8 cells to SA- or cantharidin-induced death. The results indicate that plants maintain both mitochondria-dependent and -independent pathways of programmed cell death and that AOX may act as an important mitochondrial "survival protein" against such death.

1 This work was supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and by a Premiers Research Excellence Award of Ontario (both to G.C.V.).

* Corresponding author; e-mail gregv{at}; fax 416-287-7642.

© 2002 American Society of Plant Physiologists

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