Open Access Research article

Activation of violaxanthin cycle in darkness is a common response to different abiotic stresses: a case study in Pelvetia canaliculata

Beatriz Fernández-Marín*, Fátima Míguez, José María Becerril and José Ignacio García-Plazaola

Author Affiliations

Department of Plant Physiology and Ecology, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Apdo 644, 48080 Bilbao, Spain

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:181  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-181

Published: 26 December 2011



In the violaxanthin (V) cycle, V is de-epoxidized to zeaxanthin (Z) when strong light or light combined with other stressors lead to an overexcitation of photosystems. However, plants can also suffer stress in darkness and recent reports have shown that dehydration triggers V-de-epoxidation in the absence of light. In this study, we used the highly stress-tolerant brown alga Pelvetia canaliculata as a model organism, due to its lack of lutein and its non-photochemical quenching independent of the transthylakoidal-ΔpH, to study the triggering of the V-cycle in darkness induced by abiotic stressors.


We have shown that besides desiccation, other factors such as immersion, anoxia and high temperature also induced V-de-epoxidation in darkness. This process was reversible once the treatments had ceased (with the exception of heat, which caused lethal damage). Irrespective of the stressor applied, the resulting de-epoxidised xanthophylls correlated with a decrease in Fv/Fm, suggesting a common function in the down-regulation of photosynthetical efficiency. The implication of the redox-state of the plastoquinone-pool and of the differential activity of V-cycle enzymes on V-de-epoxidation in darkness was also examined. Current results suggest that both violaxanthin de-epoxidase (VDE) and zeaxanthin-epoxidase (ZE) have a basal constitutive activity even in darkness, being ZE inhibited under stress. This inhibition leads to Z accumulation.


This study demonstrates that V-cycle activity is triggered by several abiotic stressors even when they occur in an absolute absence of light, leading to a decrease in Fv/Fm. This finding provides new insights into an understanding of the regulation mechanism of the V-cycle and of its ecophysiological roles.