Soil Salinity Limits Plant Shade Avoidance

Scott Hayes, Chrysoula K Pantazopoulou, Kasper van Gelderen, Emilie Reinen, Adrian Louis Tween, Ashutosh Sharma, Michel de Vries, Salomé Prat, Robert C Schuurink, Christa Testerink, Ronald Pierik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
184 Downloads (Pure)


Global food production is set to keep increasing despite a predicted decrease in total arable land [1]. To achieve higher production, denser planting will be required on increasingly degraded soils. When grown in dense stands, crops elongate and raise their leaves in an effort to reach sunlight, a process termed shade avoidance [2]. Shade is perceived by a reduction in the ratio of red (R) to far-red (FR) light and results in the stabilization of a class of transcription factors known as PHYTOCHROME INTERACTING FACTORS (PIFs) [3, 4]. PIFs activate the expression of auxin biosynthesis genes [4, 5] and enhance auxin sensitivity [6], which promotes cell-wall loosening and drives elongation growth. Despite our molecular understanding of shade-induced growth, little is known about how this developmental program is integrated with other environmental factors. Here, we demonstrate that low levels of NaCl in soil strongly impair the ability of plants to respond to shade. This block is dependent upon abscisic acid (ABA) signaling and the canonical ABA signaling pathway. Low R:FR light enhances brassinosteroid (BR) signaling through BRASSINOSTEROID SIGNALING KINASE 5 (BSK5) and leads to the activation of BRI1 EMS SUPPRESSOR 1 (BES1). ABA inhibits BSK5 upregulation and interferes with GSK3-like kinase inactivation by the BR pathway, thus leading to a suppression of BES1:PIF function. By demonstrating a link between light, ABA-, and BR-signaling pathways, this study provides an important step forward in our understanding of how multiple environmental cues are integrated into plant development. Intensively farmed crops often experience multiple stresses simultaneously. Here, Hayes et al. show that low-level soil salinity suppresses shade avoidance in plants. Through investigation of the mechanisms underlying this trait, they uncover a regulatory pathway that converges at the level of brassinosteroid signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1669-1676.e4
Number of pages13
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number10
Early online date2 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2019


  • plant photobiology
  • salt response
  • phytohormones
  • abscisic acid
  • brassinosteroids
  • salt stress
  • phytochrome
  • PIF

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