Heat stress effects on sink activity of developing maize kernels grown in vitro

Nordine Cheikh, Robert J. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of this study was to determine the effect of short‐term (4 days) and long‐term (8 days) heat stress (35°C) on sink activity of maize (Zea mays L.) kernels. Beginning at 3 days after pollination (DAP) kernels were grown in vitro at 25°C and 24 h later were transferred to 35°C for either 4 or 8 days. Each treatment had a control that was maintained continously at 25°C. Two experiments were designed to examine the uptake and distribution of 14C among hexoses, sucrose and starch in the pedicel placento‐chalazal (pedicel/p‐c). endosperm, and pericarp tissues of kernels exposed to heat stress for 4 or 8 days. Kernels cultured in vitro were placed in 14C‐sucrose medium either during the period of heat stress (experiment 1; 5 to 13 DAP) or immediately following heat‐stress treatments (experiment 2; 10 to 22 DAP). In both experiments no significant effect of heat stress was observed on the total radioactivity accumulated in the kernels until about 17 DAP, after which heat‐stressed kernels accumulated less 14C than the control. During the linear fill period, the endosperm of kernels exposed to heat stress accumulated more radioactivity associated with hexoses and sucrose and less radioactivity incorporated into starch, as compared to the control. Kernels heat stressed for 4 days showed a partial recovery in starch synthesis by 21 DAP, but to levels of only 65% of that of the control. Kernels heat stressed for 8 days did not recover. When 14C‐sucrose was supplied during the heat stress period (5–13 DAP). kernels from all treatments accumulated more hexoses that sucrose in the pedicel/p‐c. However, during the period following heat stress (10–22 DAP), pedicel/p‐c accumulated sucrose, but only in kernels exposed to long‐term heat stress. Soluble invertase activity was inhibited by both short‐term and long‐term heat stress, whereas the activity of insoluble invertase was affected only by long‐term heat stress. These results support the hypothesis that the disruption of kernel growth and more particularly endosperm starch biosynthesis, in response to heat stress, is mainly associated with changes in carbon utilization and partitioning between the different nonstructural carbohydrates within the endosperm rather than with a limitation in carbon supply to the kernel. Therefore, the effect on sink activity does not seem to be attributable to a thermal disruption of kernel uptake of sugars, but rather it is a consequence of heat perturbation of other physiological processes such as endosperm sugar metabolism and starch biosynthesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-66
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiologia Plantarum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Heat stress
  • Zea mays
  • invertase
  • maize
  • nonstructural carbohydrate
  • sink activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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