Abscisic Acid (ABA)


Abscisic acid (ABA) is a phytohormone that mediates responses to abiotic stress conditions and controls stomatal aperture. It is also involved in seed development and is associated with seed dormancy. ABA is biosynthesised in higher plants from carotenoid precursors and early steps take place in the chloroplast. ABA binds to PYRABACTIN RESISTANCE (PYR)/PYR1‐like (PYL) receptor proteins that are localised in the cytosol and nucleus. The ABA–receptor complex binds to and inhibits specific PP2C protein phosphatases. Inhibition of these PP2Cs results in activation of SnRK2 protein kinases that in turn activate downstream signalling proteins resulting in both short‐term changes in ion‐channel activity and long‐term effects on gene expression. ABA effects depend on influx and efflux carriers that facilitate movement between cells and through conductive tissue to coordinate responses in shoots and roots.

Key Concepts

  • ABA reduces water use and causes adaptive responses to water stress.
  • One of the most important effects of ABA is to reduce stomatal aperture.
  • ABA acts by binding to PYR/PYL/RCAR receptors located in the cytoplasm and nucleus.
  • ABA causes rapid changes in ion‐channel activity and longer term changes in transcription factor activity leading to changes in gene expression.
  • Movement of ABA between cells and tissues is regulated by influx and efflux carriers on cell surfaces.
  • ABA is synthesised from carotenoid precursors and early steps in the pathway occur in the chloroplast.

Keywords: abiotic stress; drought; stomata; germination; dormancy; 9‐cis‐epoxycarotenoid dioxygenase; phytohormone

Figure 1. Biosynthesis of ABA from epoxycarotenoids. Dotted lines indicate possible alternate pathways. NCED; 9‐cis‐EPOXYCAROTENOID DIOXYGENASE.
Figure 2. Catabolism of ABA. Major catabolic processes are shown via hydroxylation at the 7′‐, 8′‐ and 9′‐positions of ABA as well as glucose ester formation. DPA, dihydrophaseic acid and PA, phaseic acid.
Figure 3. Major ABA signalling pathways in response to cellular dehydration. Core ABA signalling components (ABA, abscisic acid receptors (ABARs), protein phosphatases 2C (PP2Cs) and SUBCLASS III SUCROSE NONFERMENTING1 (SNF1)‐RELATED PROTEIN KINASE2 (SnRK2s)) control both fast and slow ABA signalling pathways in response to cellular dehydration. Fast signalling involves stomatal closure responses in guard cells, whereas the comparatively slow signalling pathways involve transcriptional regulation in both seeds and vegetative tissues. During the seed maturation and vegetative growth phase, cellular dehydration leads to an increase in endogenous ABA levels, which induces the formation of the ternary ABAR complex ABA–ABAR–PP2C, which suppresses PP2C‐mediated dephosphorylation of SnRK2s. As a consequence, subclass III SnRK2s released from inhibition by PP2Cs activate ABA INSENSITIVE5 (ABI5) and ABA‐RESPONSIVE ELEMENT (ABRE)‐BINDING PROTEIN (AREB)/ABRE‐BINDING FACTOR (ABF) transcription factors to regulate ABRE‐dependent gene expression in seeds and vegetative tissues, respectively. In guard cells, SnRK2 protein kinases activate the anion channel SLOW ANION CHANNEL ASSOCIATED1 (SLAC1) and inhibit the cation channel POTASSIUM CHANNEL in Arabidopsis thaliana 1 (KAT1) through phosphorylation to release anions, causing stomatal closure. Reproduced from Miyakawa et al. (2013) © Elsevier.


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Further Reading

Kulik A , Wawer I , Krzywińska E , Bucholc M and Dobrowolska G (2011) SnRK2 protein kinases ‐ key regulators of plant response to abiotic stresses. OMICS 15: 859–872.

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How to Cite close
Cutler, Adrian J(Mar 2016) Abscisic Acid (ABA). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020088.pub3]