Journal of Plant Physiology
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Cadmium (Cd) is a non-essential trace element and its environmental concentrations are approaching toxic levels, especially in some agricultural soils. Understanding how and where Cd is stored in plants is important for ensuring food safety. In this study, we examined two plant species that differ in the distribution of Cd among roots and leaves. Lettuce and barley were grown in nutrient solution under two conditions: chronic (4 weeks) exposure to a low, environmentally relevant concentration (1.0 μM) of Cd and acute (1 h) exposure to a high concentration (5.0 mM) of Cd. Seedlings grown in solution containing 1.0 μM CdCl2 did not show symptoms of toxicity and, at this concentration, 77% of the total Cd was translocated to leaves of lettuce, whereas only 24% of the total Cd was translocated to barley leaves. We tested the hypothesis that differential accumulation of Cd in roots and leaves is related to differential concentrations of phytochelatins (PCs), and its precursor peptides. The amounts of PCs and their precursor peptides in the roots and shoots were measured using HPLC. Each of PC2–4 was synthesized in the barley root upon chronic exposure to Cd and did not increase further upon acute exposure. In the case of lettuce, no PCs were detected in the root given either Cd treatment. The high amounts of PCs produced in barley root could have contributed to preferential retention of Cd in barley roots.