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Nitrate reductase (NR) is an enzymatic source of nitric oxide (NO) in plants, and it needs Mo for the Mo-cofactor to be activated. Because NR-deficient mutants are not always available in some species, a cheap and simple pharmacological application of tungstate, which substitutes for Mo in the Mo-cofactor as a competitive antagonist, is widely used as a NR inhibitor in plant NO research. However, evidence indicates that tungstate not only inactivates NR but also inhibits other molybdate-dependent enzymes in plants. In addition, a number of investigations have shown that tungstate also inhibits root growth, affects cortical microtubule formation, and induces programmed cell death (PCD) in plants, just like other heavy metals do. Therefore, tungstate has been shown to exert many other effects that are not connected with the inhibition of NR activity. The origin and mechanism of using tungstate as a NR inhibitor in plants is reviewed here and the progress regarding tungstate toxicity to plants and the possible problems involved in using tungstate as a NR inhibitor in plant NO research are analysed. In summary, the use of tungstate as a NR inhibitor in plant NO research must be treated with caution, keeping in mind that it is not completely specific. It is necessary to search for more NR-deficient mutants and new, specific NR inhibitors. A combination of pharmacological and biochemical analysis with a genetic approach will be necessary in order to investigate the roles of NO in plants.


Jie Xiong, Guanfu Fu, Yongjie Yang, Cheng Zhu, Longxing Tao. Tungstate: is it really a specific nitrate reductase inhibitor in plant nitric oxide research? Journal of experimental botany. 2012 Jan;63(1):33-41

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PMID: 21914661

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