Five-day exposure of clary sage (Salvia sclarea
L.) to 100 μM cadmium (Cd) in hydroponics was sufficient to increase Cd concentrations significantly in roots and aboveground parts and affect negatively whole plant levels of calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg), since Cd competes for Ca channels, while reduced Mg concentrations are associated with increased Cd tolerance. Total zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), and iron (Fe) uptake increased but their translocation to the aboveground parts decreased. Despite the substantial levels of Cd in leaves, without any observed defects on chloroplast ultrastructure, an enhanced photosystem II (PSII) efficiency was observed, with a higher fraction of absorbed light energy to be directed to photochemistry (ΦPSΙΙ
). The concomitant increase in the photoprotective mechanism of non-photochemical quenching of photosynthesis (NPQ) resulted in an important decrease in the dissipated non-regulated energy (ΦNO
), modifying the homeostasis of reactive oxygen species (ROS), through a decreased singlet oxygen (1
) formation. A basal ROS level was detected in control plant leaves for optimal growth, while a low increased level of ROS under 5 days Cd exposure seemed to be beneficial for triggering defense responses, and a high level of ROS out of the boundaries (8 days Cd exposure), was harmful to plants. Thus, when clary sage was exposed to Cd for a short period, tolerance mechanisms were triggered. However, exposure to a combination of Cd and high light or to Cd alone (8 days) resulted in an inhibition of PSII functionality, indicating Cd toxicity. Thus, the rapid activation of PSII functionality at short time exposure and the inhibition at longer duration suggests a hormetic response and describes these effects in terms of “adaptive response” and “toxicity”, respectively.
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