Plasticity of photosynthesis after the 'red light syndrome' in cucumber

G. Trouwborst, S.W. Hogewoning, O. van Kooten, J. Harbinson, W. van Ieperen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


The quantum efficiency of photosynthesis of leaves is wavelength dependent and peaks in red (620–670 nm). However when cucumber plants are raised under pure red light, leaf photosynthesis becomes severely impaired. This “red light syndrome” has been characterized before by a low Fv/Fm, unresponsive stomatal conductance (gs), and a low photosynthetic capacity (Amax). It is not known if the syndrome also occurs in fully developed leaves that are exposed to pure red light after reaching maturity and if initially injured leaves can recover from the syndrome. This study investigates the plasticity leaf photosynthetic apparatus after inducing or releasing the “red light syndrome” in leaves of young cucumber plants. The plants were grown under pure red (R) or mixed red/blue (RB; 70%R) LED light and subsequently exposed to RB (R/RB) and R (RB/R) light (100 µmol PPFD m-2 s-1, 16 h photoperiod) or kept at their initial growth spectrum (R/R) and (RB/RB). Acclimation of fully developed leaves was monitored with gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence (CF) over a period of 8–10 days after the shift. After switching to RB, R injured leaves recovered from photodamage within 4 days. Photosynthetic capacity (Amax) and gs partly recovered, but did not restrict the net CO2 assimilation rate at growth irradiance (A100), which increased to the same level as in healthy (RB/RB) leaves. After imposing injurious R to healthy mature leaves, they transiently developed signs of the red light-syndrome: a slightly decreased Fv/Fm and more severely reduced Amax and gs. However, A100 did not significantly decrease. CF quenching analysis revealed an potentially harmful increased quantum yield of non-regulated non-photochemical energy loss in PSII under R, which was higher in leaves that developed under R than in leaves that were exposed to R after reaching maturity. We conclude that exposure to pure red light is harmful to photosynthetic systems in both developing and developed leaves of cucumber, but the effect on CO2 assimilation rate and Fv/Fm is much more severe in developing leaves than in mature leaves at low growth irradiance. Chloroplasts of previously R light injured leaves can recover within a few days after releasing from R light, while stomatal conductance and other (partial) morphologically determined leaf factors do not completely acclimate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-82
JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Chlorophyll fluorescence
  • Cucumis sativus
  • Energy dissipation model for PSII
  • Leaf acclimation
  • Light emitting diodes (LEDs)
  • Light quality
  • Photosynthetic acclimation


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