Nature of Abscisic Acid
Abscisic acid is a single compound unlike the auxins, gibberellins, and cytokinins. It was called "abscisin II" originally because it was thought to play a major role in abscission of fruits. At about the same time another group was calling it "dormin" because they thought it had a major role in bud dormancy. The name abscisic acid (ABA) was coined by a compromise between the two groups. Though ABA generally is thought to play mostly inhibitory roles, it has many promoting functions as well(Arteca, 1996; Mauseth, 1991; Raven, 1992; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).
History of Abscisic Acid
In 1963, abscisic acid was first identified and characterized by Frederick Addicott and his associates. They were studying compounds responsible for the abscission of fruits (cotton). Two compounds were isolated and called abscisin I and abscisin II. Abscisin II is presently called abscisic acid (ABA)(Addicot, 1963). Two other groups at about the same time discovered the same compound. One group headed by Philip Wareing was studying bud dormancy in woody plants. The other group led by Van Steveninck was studying abscission of flowers and fruits from lupine. Plant physiologists agreed to call the compound abscisic acid (Salisbury and Ross, 1992).
Biosynthesis and Metabolism
ABA is a naturally occurring compound in plants. It is a sesquiterpenoid (15-carbon) which is partially produced via the mevalonic pathway in chloroplasts and other plastids. Because it is sythesized partially in the chloroplasts, it makes sense that biosynthesis primarily occurs in the leaves. The production of ABA is accentuated by stresses such as water loss and freezing temperatures. It is believed that biosynthesis occurs indirectly through the production of carotenoids. Carotenoids are pigments produced by the chloroplast which have 40 carbons.
Breakdown of these carotenoids occurs by the following mechanism:
- Violaxanthin is a carotenoid which has forty carbons.
- It is isomerized and then split via an isomerase reaction followed by an oxidation reaction.
- One molecule of xanthonin is produced from one molecule of violaxanthonin and it is uncertain what happens to the remaining biproduct.
- The one molecule of xanthonin produced is unstable and spontaneously changed to ABA aldehyde.
- Further oxidation results in ABA.
- Activation of the molecule can occur by two methods. In the first method, an ABA-glucose ester can form by attachment of glucose to ABA. In the second method, oxidation of ABA can occur to form phaseic acid and dihyhdrophaseic acid.
- The transport of ABA can occur in both xylem and phloem tissues. It can also be translocated through paranchyma cells. The movement of abscisic acid in plants does not exhibit polarity like auxins. ABA is capable of moving both up and down the stem (Walton and Li, 1995; Salisbury and Ross).
Functions of Abscisic Acid
The following are some of the phyysiological responses known to be associated with abscisic acid (Davies, 1995; Mauseth, 1991; Raven, 1992; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).
- Stimulates the closure of stomata (water stress brings about an increase in ABA synthesis).
- Inhibits shoot growth but will not have as much affect on roots or may even promote growth of roots.
- Induces seeds to synthesize storage proteins.
- Inhibits the affect of gibberellins on stimulating de novo synthesis of a-amylase.
- Has some effect on induction and maintanance of dormancy.
- Induces gene transcription especially for proteinase inhibitors in response to wounding which may explain an apparent role in pathogen defense.