Cadmium (Cd) is one of the prominent environmental hazards, affecting plant productivity and posing human health risks worldwide. Although salicylic acid (SA) and nitric oxide (NO) are known to have stress mitigating roles, little was explored on how they work together against Cd-toxicity in rice. This study evaluated the individual and combined effects of SA and sodium nitroprusside (SNP), a precursor of NO, on Cd-stress tolerance in rice. Results revealed that Cd at toxic concentrations caused rice biomass reduction, which was linked to enhanced accumulation of Cd in roots and leaves, reduced photosynthetic pigment contents, and decreased leaf water status. Cd also potentiated its phytotoxicity by triggering reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and depleting several non-enzymatic and enzymatic components in rice leaves. In contrast, SA and/or SNP supplementation with Cd resulted in growth recovery, as evidenced by greater biomass content, improved leaf water content, and protection of photosynthetic pigments. These signaling molecules were particularly effective in restricting Cd uptake and accumulation, with the highest effect being observed in “SA + SNP + Cd” plants. SA and/or SNP alleviated Cd-induced oxidative damage by reducing ROS accumulation and malondialdehyde production through the maintenance of ascorbate and glutathione levels, and redox status, as well as the better activities of antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione S
-transferase, and monodehydroascorbate reductase. Combined effects of SA and SNP were observed to be more prominent in Cd-stress mitigation than the individual effects of SA followed by that of SNP, suggesting that SA and NO in combination more efficiently boosted physiological and biochemical responses to alleviate Cd-toxicity than either SA or NO alone. This finding signifies a cooperative action of SA and NO in mitigating Cd-induced adverse effects in rice, and perhaps in other crop plants.
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