© 2013. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license


The β-cyanoalanine pathway is primarily responsible for detoxification of excess cyanide produced by plants. Recent evidence suggests that cyanide detoxification via this pathway may be involved in the response and tolerance to water deficit in plants. The aim of this study was to explore this role in Arabidopsis thaliana in greater detail. The first objective was to establish responsiveness of the pathway to the magnitude and duration of water deficit. The second objective was to examine how interruption of single genes (AtCysA1, AtCysC1 and AtNIT4) encoding enzymes of the pathway influenced the ability to metabolize cyanide and withstand water deficit. Arabidopsis plants were exposed to conditions which emulated acute and chronic water deficit, followed by measurement of tissue cyanide concentration, activity of enzymes, and physiological parameters. The results for wild-type Arabidopsis demonstrated a transient increase in cyanide concentration and β-cyanoalanine synthase activity, followed by a decrease in both. The increase in enzyme activity was localized to the tissue in direct proximity to the stress. The knockdown AtCysA1 mutant did not differ from wild-type while AtCysC1 mutants were slightly more sensitive to water deficit. The AtNIT4 mutant was the most sensitive showing decreased growth along with altered chlorophyll content under water deficit as compared to wild-type. Collectively, the results indicated that the pathway is responsive to water deficit although the severity of stress did not alter the nature of the response, implying that the capacity to remove cyanide generated during water deficit may contribute to tolerance to this stress in Arabidopsis.