Plant Responses to UV‐B Radiation


Research on plant UV‐B responses commenced in earnest following discovery of stratospheric ozone layer depletion in the 1970s. Initial research focussed mostly on UV stress, including damage to genetic material (DNA, RNA) and negative impacts on photosynthesis and growth. A second phase of research centred on UV‐B acclimation including photorepair, UV‐screening and upregulation of antioxidant defences, and led to the conclusion that plants are well protected from potentially harmful effects of UV‐B radiation. The identification of a dedicated UV‐B photoreceptor (UVR8), and components of its signalling pathway, revealed that UV‐B sensing has an important regulatory role in UV‐protection. An emerging third phase of plant UV‐B biology centres on a much broader role of UV‐B radiation as an environmental regulator. UV‐B modulates, amongst others, thermomorphogenesis, shade‐avoidance, the circadian clock and resistance to drought. Thus, it appears that UV‐B plays a comprehensive role in controlling growth and development of plants.

Key Concepts

  • Realistic UV‐B exposure conditions are essential for assessing environmentally relevant UV‐B impacts.
  • UV‐B is a potential stressor, however, negative impacts of UV‐B on the growth of plants are small under realistic UV‐B exposure conditions.
  • The UV‐B photoreceptor UVR8 is used by plants to sense exposure to UV‐B radiation.
  • Interactions between UVR8 and other photoreceptor signalling pathways result in fine‐regulation of plant responses.
  • UVR8 plays a role in modulation of clock entrainment, chloroplast development, thermomorphogenesis, accumulation of specific metabolites, and drought‐protection.
  • UV‐B modulates plant responses to climate change parameters such as heat, drought and CO2.

Keywords: ultraviolet‐B; UV‐B; plant stress; DNA‐dimer; UVR8; photoreceptor; UV‐screening pigment; flavonoid; acclimation; morphology

Figure 1. (a) Frames with UV‐B emitting tubes suspended above vegetation in Abisko, northern Sweden. Supplemental UV irradiance is controlled to yield a fixed percentage increase above ambient UV. Source: Figure courtesy of Lars Olof Björn. (b) Inside solar simulator at the Helmholtz Centrum München (Neuherberg, Germany), which allows accurate imitation of the full solar spectrum with different degrees of ozone layer depletion. Source: Figure courtesy of Andreas Albert.
Figure 2. Diagram showing damaging effects of UV radiation on cellular targets, as well as protection and repair mechanisms. UVR, ultraviolet radiation; DSB, double‐strand DNA breaks; EPS, exopolysaccharide; SOD, superoxide dismutase; CAT, catalase; MAA, mycosporine‐like amino acids; PCD, programmed cell death. Source:!divAbstract/. Licensed under CC by 3.0.
Figure 3. Diagram showing the dynamic changes in metabolite concentrations that can occur during UV‐B acclimation. Levels of ascorbate and glutathione (GSH) decrease following exposure to acute UV‐B stress but following the initial decrease, increase during UV‐acclimation. Polyamines transiently accumulate during initial UV acclimation, while levels of flavonoids increase gradually, typically over several days. Reproduced with permission from Jansen et al. . © Elsevier.
Figure 4. UV‐B‐induced morphological responses in Arabidopsis thaliana LER, and the corresponding uvr8‐1 mutant. UV‐B exposure leads to a stocky phenotype with shorter petioles. As such, UV‐B antagonises the far‐red light‐induced elongation response, and this occurs in a UVR8 dependent manner. Reproduced from Hayes et al. .
Figure 5. UVR8 mediated signalling involves monomerisation and interactions with COP1 and HY5/HYH. The triggered signalling cascade can impact on processes as diverse as shade avoidance, epinasty, phototropism and thermomorphogenesis. Reproduced with permission from Hayes et al. © John Wiley and Sons.


Agati G, Azzarello E, Pollastri S and Tattini M (2012) Flavonoids as antioxidants in plants: location and functional significance. Plant Science 196: 67–76.

Aphalo PJ, Albert A, Björn L‐O, et al. (2012) Beyond the Visible: A Handbook of Best Practice in Plant UV Photobiology, COST Action FA0906 UV4growth. University of Helsinki: Helsinki. ISBN: 978‐952‐10‐8362‐4.

Ballaré CL, Caldwell MM, Flint SD, Robinson SA and Bornman JF (2011) Effects of solar ultraviolet radiation on terrestrial ecosystems. Patterns, mechanisms, and interactions with climate change. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences 10: 226–241.

Banaś KA, Hermanowicz P, Sztatelman O, et al. (2018) 6, 4–pp Photolyase encoded by atuvr3 is localized in nuclei, chloroplasts and mitochondria and its expression is down‐regulated by light in a photosynthesis‐dependent manner. Plant and Cell Physiology 59: 44–57.

Bandurska H and Cieślak M (2013) The interactive effect of water deficit and UV‐B radiation on salicylic acid accumulation in barley roots and leaves. Environmental and Experimental Botany 94: 9–18.

Barnes PW, Shinkle JR, Flint SD and Ryel RJ (2005) UV‐B radiation, photomorphogenesis and plant‐plant interactions. In: Esser K, Lüttge U, Beyschlag W and Murata J (eds) Progress in Botany 66, pp 313–340. Springer: Berlin, Heidelberg.

Biever JJ and Gardner G (2016) The relationship between multiple UV‐B perception mechanisms and DNA repair pathways in plants. Environmental and Experimental Botany 124: 89–99.

Björn LO (2015) On the history of phyto‐photo UV science (not to be left in skoto toto and silence). Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 93: 3–8.

Brodführer U (1955) Der Einfluss einer abgestuften Dosierung von ultravioletter Sonnenstrahlung auf das Wachstum der Pflanzen. Planta 45: 1–56.

Brosché M and Strid Å (2003) Molecular events following perception of ultraviolet‐B radiation by plants. Physiologia Plantarum 117: 1–10.

Castagna A, Csepregi K, Neugart S, et al. (2017) Environmental plasticity of Pinot noir grapevine leaves: a trans‐European study of morphological and biochemical changes along a 1,500‐km latitudinal climatic gradient. Plant, Cell & Environment 40: 2790–2805.

Comont D, Martinez Abaigar J, Albert A, et al. (2012) UV responses of Lolium perenne raised along a latitudinal gradient across Europe: a filtration study. Physiologia Plantarum 145: 604–618.

Cronin TW and Bok MJ (2016) Photoreception and vision in the ultraviolet. Journal of Experimental Biology 219: 2790–2801.

Csepregi K, Neugart S, Schreiner M and Hideg É (2016) Comparative evaluation of total antioxidant capacities of plant polyphenols. Molecules 21: 208.

Díaz‐Ramos LA, O'Hara A, Kanagarajan S, et al. (2018) Difference in the action spectra for UVR8 monomerisation and HY5 transcript accumulation in Arabidopsis. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences 17: 1108–1117.

Findlay KM and Jenkins GI (2016) Regulation of UVR8 photoreceptor dimer/monomer photo‐equilibrium in Arabidopsis plants grown under photoperiodic conditions. Plant, Cell & Environment 39: 1706–1714.

Flint SD and Caldwell MM (2003) A biological spectral weighting function for ozone depletion research with higher plants. Physiologia Plantarum 117: 137–144.

Hayes S, Velanis CN, Jenkins GI and Franklin KA (2014) UV‐B detected by the UVR8 photoreceptor antagonizes auxin signaling and plant shade avoidance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111: 11894–11899.

Hayes S, Sharma A, Fraser DP, et al. (2017) UV‐B perceived by the UVR8 photoreceptor inhibits plant thermomorphogenesis. Current Biology 27: 120–127.

Hectors K, Van Oevelen S, Geuns J, et al. (2014) Dynamic changes in plant secondary metabolites during UV acclimation in Arabidopsis thaliana. Physiologia Plantarum 152: 219–230.

Hideg É, Jansen MAK and Strid Å (2013) UV‐B exposure, ROS, and stress: inseparable companions or loosely linked associates? Trends in Plant Science 18: 107–115.

Jansen MAK, Gaba V and Greenberg BM (1998) Higher plants and UV‐B radiation: balancing damage, repair and acclimation. Trends in Plant Science 3: 131–135.

Jansen MAK, Hectors K, O'Brien NM, Guisez Y and Potters G (2008) Plant stress and human health: do human consumers benefit from UV‐B acclimated crops? Plant Science 175: 449–458.

Jenkins GI (2017) Photomorphogenic responses to ultraviolet‐B light. Plant, Cell & Environment 40: 2544–2557.

Jones AG, Bussell J, Winters A, Scullion J and Gwynn‐Jones D (2016) The functional quality of decomposing litter outputs from an Arctic plant community is affected by long‐term exposure to enhanced UV‐B. Ecological Indicators 60: 8–17.

Jordan BR (2018) Plant pigments and protection against UV‐B radiation. Annual Plant Reviews: 275–292.

Kaling M, Kanawati B, Ghirardo A, et al. (2015) UV‐B mediated metabolic rearrangements in poplar revealed by non‐targeted metabolomics. Plant, Cell & Environment 38: 892–904.

Kataria S, Jajoo A and Guruprasad KN (2014) Impact of increasing Ultraviolet‐B (UV‐B) radiation on photosynthetic processes. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology 137: 55–66.

Klem K, Holub P, Štroch M, et al. (2015) Ultraviolet and photosynthetically active radiation can both induce photoprotective capacity allowing barley to overcome high radiation stress. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 93: 74–83.

Li N, Teranishi M, Yamaguchi H, et al. (2015) UV‐B‐induced CPD photolyase gene expression is regulated by UVR8‐dependent and‐independent pathways in Arabidopsis. Plant and Cell Physiology 56: 2014–2023.

Liu H, Cao X, Liu X, et al. (2017) UV‐B irradiation differentially regulates terpene synthases and terpene content of peach. Plant, Cell & Environment 40: 2261–2275.

Mátai A, Nagy D and Hideg É (2019) UV‐B strengthens antioxidant responses to drought in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves not only as supplementary irradiation but also as pre‐treatment. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 134: 9–19.

Mittler R (2017) ROS are good. Trends in Plant Science 22: 11–19.

Molina MJ and Rowland FS (1974) Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: chlorine atom‐catalysed destruction of ozone. Nature 249: 810.

Morales LO, Brosché M, Vainonen J, et al. (2013) Multiple roles for UV RESISTANCE LOCUS8 in regulating gene expression and metabolite accumulation in Arabidopsis under solar ultraviolet radiation. Plant Physiology 161: 744–759.

Moriconi V, Binkert M, Rojas MCC, et al. (2018) Perception of sunflecks by the UV‐B photoreceptor UV RESISTANCE LOCUS 8. Plant Physiology 177: 75–81.

Oakenfull RJ and Davis SJ (2017) Shining a light on the Arabidopsis circadian clock. Plant, Cell & Environment 40: 2571–2585.

Pescheck F and Bilger W (2019) High impact of seasonal temperature changes on acclimation of photoprotection and radiation‐induced damage in field grown Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 134: 129–136.

Podolec R and Ulm R (2018) Photoreceptor‐mediated regulation of the COP1/SPA E3 ubiquitin ligase. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 45: 18–25.

Radziejwoski A, Vlieghe K, Lammens T, et al. (2011) Atypical E2F activity coordinates PHR1 photolyase gene transcription with endoreduplication onset. The EMBO Journal 30: 355–363.

Rapantová B, Klem K, Holub P, Novotná K and Urban O (2017) Photosynthetic response of mountain grassland species to drought stress is affected by UV‐induced accumulation of epidermal flavonols. Beskydy 9: 31–40.

Remias D, Albert A and Lütz C (2010) Effects of realistically simulated, elevated UV irradiation on photosynthesis and pigment composition of the alpine snow alga Chlamydomonas nivalis and the arctic soil alga Tetracystis sp.(Chlorophyceae). Photosynthetica 48: 269–277.

Rizzini L, Favory JJ, Cloix C, et al. (2011) Perception of UV‐B by the Arabidopsis UVR8 protein. Science 332: 103–106.

Robson TM, Hartikainen SM and Aphalo PJ (2015a) How does solar ultraviolet‐B radiation improve drought tolerance of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth.) seedlings? Plant, Cell & Environment 38: 953–967.

Robson TM, Klem K, Urban O and Jansen MAK (2015b) Re‐interpreting plant morphological responses to UV‐B radiation. Plant, Cell & Environment 38: 856–866.

Schreiner M, Krumbein A, Mewis I, Ulrichs C and Huyskens‐Keil S (2009) Short‐term and moderate UV‐B radiation effects on secondary plant metabolism in different organs of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus L.). Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 10: 93–96.

Schreiner M, Mewis I, Huyskens‐Keil S, et al. (2012) UV‐B‐induced secondary plant metabolites‐potential benefits for plant and human health. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 31: 229–240.

Searles PS, Flint SD and Caldwell MM (2001) A meta‐analysis of plant field studies simulating stratospheric ozone depletion. Oecologia 127: 1–10.

Tossi V, Lamattina L, Jenkins GI and Cassia RO (2014) Ultraviolet‐B‐induced stomatal closure in Arabidopsis is regulated by the UV RESISTANCE LOCUS8 photoreceptor in a nitric oxide‐dependent mechanism. Plant Physiology 164: 2220–2230.

Uchytilová T, Krejza J, Veselá B, et al. (2019) Ultraviolet radiation modulates C:N stoichiometry and biomass allocation in Fagus sylvatica saplings cultivated under elevated CO2 concentration. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 134: 103–112.

Urban O, Tůma I, Holub P and Marek MV (2006) Photosynthesis and growth response of Calamagrostis arundinacea and C. villosa to enhanced UV‐B radiation. Photosynthetica 44: 215–220.

Vandenbussche F, Tilbrook K, Fierro AC, et al. (2014) Photoreceptor‐mediated bending towards UV‐B in Arabidopsis. Molecular Plant 7: 1041–1052.

Vanhaelewyn L, Prinsen E, Van Der Straeten D and Vandenbussche F (2016) Hormone‐controlled UV‐B responses in plants. Journal of Experimental Botany 67: 4469–4482.

Verdaguer D, Jansen MAK, Llorens L, Morales LO and Neugart S (2017) UV‐A radiation effects on higher plants: Exploring the known unknown. Plant Science 255: 72–81.

Wargent JJ, Elfadly EM, Moore JP and Paul ND (2011) Increased exposure to UV‐B radiation during early development leads to enhanced photoprotection and improved long‐term performance in Lactuca sativa. Plant, Cell & Environment 34: 1401–1413.

Wellmann E (1971) Phytochrome‐mediated flavone glycoside synthesis in cell suspension cultures of Petroselinum hortense after pre‐irradiation with ultraviolet light. Planta 101: 283–286.

Wu D, Hu Q, Yan Z, et al. (2012) Structural basis of ultraviolet‐B perception by UVR8. Nature 484: 214.

Yin R and Ulm R (2017) How plants cope with UV‐B: from perception to response. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 37: 42–48.

Yokawa K and Baluška F (2015) Pectins, ROS homeostasis and UV‐B responses in plant roots. Phytochemistry 112: 80–83.

Further Reading

Bornman JF, Barnes PW, Robson TM, et al. (2019) Linkages between stratospheric ozone, UV radiation and climate change and their implications for terrestrial ecosystems. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences 18: 681–716.

Dotto M and Casati P (2017) Developmental reprogramming by UV‐B radiation in plants. Plant Science 264: 96–101.

Jenkins GI (2009) Signal transduction in responses to UV‐B radiation. Annual Review of Plant Biology 60: 407–431.

Jordan BR (ed.) (2017) UV‐B Radiation and Plant Life: Molecular Biology to Ecology. CABI: UK.

Neilson EH, Goodger JQ, Woodrow IE and Møller BL (2013) Plant chemical defense: at what cost? Trends in Plant Science 18: 250–258.

Ulm R and Jenkins GI (2015) Q&A: How do plants sense and respond to UV‐B radiation? BMC Biology 13: 45.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Jansen, Marcel AK, and Urban, Otmar(May 2019) Plant Responses to UV‐B Radiation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027966]