Heavy metal stress. Activation of distinct mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways by copper and cadmium.

Claudia Jonak*, Hirofumi Nakagami, Heribert Hirt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

350 Scopus citations


Excessive amounts of heavy metals adversely affect plant growth and development. Whereas some regions naturally contain high levels of heavy metals, anthropogenic release of heavy metals into the environment continuously increases soil contamination. The presence of elevated levels of heavy metal ions triggers a wide range of cellular responses including changes in gene expression and synthesis of metal-detoxifying peptides. To elucidate signal transduction events leading to the cellular response to heavy metal stress we analyzed protein phosphorylation induced by elevated levels of copper and cadmium ions as examples for heavy metals with different physiochemical properties and functions. Exposure of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) seedlings to excess copper or cadmium ions activated four distinct mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs): SIMK, MMK2, MMK3, and SAMK. Comparison of the kinetics of MAPK activation revealed that SIMK, MMK2, MMK3, and SAMK are very rapidly activated by copper ions, while cadmium ions induced delayed MAPK activation. In protoplasts, the MAPK kinase SIMKK specifically mediated activation of SIMK and SAMK but not of MMK2 and MMK3. Moreover, SIMKK only conveyed MAPK activation by CuCl(2) but not by CdCl(2). These results suggest that plants respond to heavy metal stress by induction of several distinct MAPK pathways and that excess amounts of copper and cadmium ions induce different cellular signaling mechanisms in roots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3276-3283
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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