ISSN 10227954, Russian Journal of Genetics, 2011, Vol. 47, No. 6, pp. 646–661. © Pleiades Publishing, Inc., 2011.
Original Russian Text © A.S. Kurbidaeva, M.G. Novokreshchenova, 2011, published in Genetika, 2011, Vol. 47, No. 6, pp. 735–751.
A characteristic feature of plants is their fixed
places of habitation, which does not permit plants to
actively avoid stress. It is therefore necessary for them
to develop efficient physiological and biochemical
ways to respond to different stresses, both biotic and
abiotic. Abiotic stresses are commonly accepted to be
high or low temperatures, too strong or weak light,
dehydration or excess of water, and high soil salinity.
One of the most intensively studied issues is the effect
of low temperatures on plants. Plants are able to with
stand their destructive influence through a number of
processes known as cold acclimation . In temperate
regions, plants are exposed to seasonal and daily fluctua
tions of temperature. In the warm season, their cold resis
tance is low. With the beginning of fall, many plants
become coldresistant. Low temperatures activate cas
cades of genes leading to the accumulation of metabolites
and structural proteins that prevent cell damage.
The key points are as follows: identification of genes
involved in the process of cold acclimation, analysis of
their functions, and the ways of perception and transduc
tion of signals. Knowledge of the mechanisms of accli
mation and resistance to cold is of fundamental and
potential practical importance. Low temperature is the
main factor limiting the areas of cultivation of thermo
philic plants and periodically leading to the loss of yield.
At the same time, transgenic plants carrying genes that
are not specific of a given species or overexpressing their
own ”useful” genes are successfully used to increase the
commercial value of crops.
THE ACTION OF LOW TEMPERATURES
Low temperatures have different effects on plants.
The primary targets for temperatures below
cell membrane systems. It is well known that the cause
of freezinginduced injuries of membranes is a high
level of dehydration . At temperatures below
crystals are formed in the intercellular space, as the
concentration of salts in the extracellular fluid is lower
and, consequently, the freezing temperature is higher.
Since the chemical potential of ice is lower than of
water, the formation of extracellular ice leads to the
release of water from the cell by the gradient of chemical
, the cell loses over 90% of water.
Dehydration leads to cell lysis as a result of swelling
and to structural changes and destruction of the lipid
membrane. Hence, the main aim of cold acclimation
is stabilization of membranes. Stabilization of mem
branes involves different mechanisms, such as, for
example, alterations of the lipid composition  and
accumulation of sucrose and other compatible
osmolytes . Compatible osmolytes promote the
protection of cells against freezing injuries in many
organisms, from bacteria to plants and animals. They
represent a chemically heterogenous group that
includes several amino acids (proline), quaternary
nitrous compounds (betain), sugars, and many other
substances . They enhance the osmotic potential,
stabilize the macromolecular structures and mem
branes [6–8], and activate the function of protein
chaperones . There is evidence for a correlation
between the content of these substances in a plant and
its freezing tolerance .
In addition, upon a contact with the cell wall extra
cellular ice crystals cause cell destruction; also, dena
turation of proteins (vitally important enzymes as
well) occurs at low temperatures. The mechanisms of
protection against these factors are an increase of the
concentration of apoplastic sugars  and induction
of molecular chaperone genes , respectively.
Temperatures below optimal values, but above
cause metabolic disorders that are probably associated
with an impaired function of enzymes. Such disorders
include changes in the structure of lipids and phos
pholipids, changes in starch hydrolysis and in the
Genetic Control of Plant Resistance to Cold
A. S. Kurbidaeva and M. G. Novokreshchenova
Lomonosov Moscow State University, Department of Genetics, Moscow, 119234 Russia
Received June 24, 2010
—Data on the main pathways of the effect of cold on plants and on the pathways of plant responses
to cold stress are reviewed. Genes involved in these processes are described. Special attention is given to tran
scription factors regulating expression of cold resistance genes. In addition, the participation of hormones
and metabolites in the protection of plants from coldinduced damage is discussed and a relationship of the
response to cold with the circadian rhythms and with the formation of stomata is demonstrated.