Melatonin has emerged as a research highlight regarding its important role in regulating plant growth and the adaptation to the environmental stresses. In this study, we investigated how melatonin prevented the cadmium toxicity to wheat seedlings. The results demonstrated that cadmium induced the expression of melatonin biosynthesis-related genes and cause a significant increase of endogenous melatonin level. Melatonin treatment drastically alleviated the cadmium toxicity, resulting in increased plant height, biomass accumulation, and root growth. Cadmium and senescence treatment significantly increased the endogenous level of hydrogen peroxide, which was strictly counterbalanced by melatonin. Furthermore, melatonin treatment caused a significant increase of GSH (reduced glutathione) content and the GSH/GSSG (oxidized glutathione) ratio. The activities of two key antioxidant enzymes, ascorbate peroxidase (APX) and superoxide dismutase (SOD), but not catalase (CAT) and peroxidase (POD), were specifically improved by melatonin. Additionally, melatonin not only promoted the primary root growth, but also drastically enhanced the capacity of the seedling roots to degrade the exogenous hydrogen peroxide. These results suggested that melatonin played a key role in maintaining the hydrogen peroxide homeostasis, via regulation of the antioxidant systems. Conclusively, this study revealed a crucial protective role of melatonin in the regulation of cadmium resistance in wheat.
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