Alternative pathway (AP) has been widely accepted to be involved in enhancing tolerance to various environmental stresses. In this study, the role of AP in response to cadmium (Cd) stress in two barley varieties, highland barley (Kunlun14) and barley (Ganpi6), was investigated. Results showed that the malondialdehyde (MDA) content and electrolyte leakage (EL) level under Cd stress increased in two barley varieties. The expressions of alternative oxidase (AOX) genes (mainly AOX1a), AP capacity (Valt), and AOX protein amount were clearly induced more in Kunlun14 under Cd stress, and these parameters were further enhanced by applying sodium nitroprussid (SNP, a NO donor). Moreover, H2O2 and O2- contents were raised in the Cd-treated roots of two barley varieties, but they were markedly relieved by exogenous SNP. However, this mitigating effect was aggravated by salicylhydroxamic acid (SHAM, an AOX inhibitor), suggesting that AP contributes to NO-enhanced Cd stress tolerance. Further study demonstrated that the effect of SHAM application on reactive oxygen species (ROS)-related scavenging enzymes and antioxidants was minimal. These observations showed that AP exerts an indispensable function in NO-enhanced Cd stress tolerance in two barley varieties. AP was mainly responsible for regulating the ROS accumulation to maintain the homeostasis of redox state.
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