Microtubule integrity and cell viability under metal (Cu, Ni and Cr) stress in the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa (2023)

Table of Contents
Introduction Section snippets Plant collection Treatments Control Discussion Conclusions Acknowledgements Cited by (37) Responses of the Mediterranean seagrass Cymodocea nodosa to combined temperature and salinity stress at the ionomic, transcriptomic, ultrastructural and photosynthetic levels Trace metal accumulation in seagrass and saltmarsh ecosystems of India: comparative assessment and bioindicator potential Ammonium regulates redox homeostasis and photosynthetic ability to mitigate copper toxicity in wheat seedlings Endocrine disrupting effects of copper and cadmium in the oocytes of the Antarctic Emerald rockcod Trematomus bernacchii Structural and physiological effects of chromium uptake in the seagrass Halophila stipulacea Evaluation of the spatiotemporal effects of bisphenol A on the leaves of the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa Recommended articles (6) Baseline trace elements in the seagrass Halodule wrightii Aschers (Cymodoceaceae) from Todos os Santos Bay, Bahia, Brazil Anti-oxidative feedback and biomarkers in the intertidal seagrass Zostera japonica induced by exposure to copper, lead and cadmium Trace element compartmentation in the seagrass Posidonia oceanica and biomonitoring applications Silver nanoparticle toxicity effect on the seagrass Halophila stipulacea Heavy metals accumulation in seagrasses collected from Palk Bay, South-eastern India Excess copper promotes photoinhibition and modulates the expression of antioxidant-related genes in Zostera muelleri


Seagrasses occur in most shallow coastal waters throughout the world playing a key multifunctional role. They are important primary producers, provide critical habitat for a variety of organisms, stabilize sediments and fix nutrients (Beal and Schmit, 2000). However, human population growth along coastal environments has resulted in a worldwide deterioration of seagrass meadows (Hemminga and Duarte, 2000). Many factors such as eutrophication, siltation, mechanical damage, thermal stress and invasions by exotic species are among the threats. Toxic chemicals such metals are also considered as a contributing factor to seagrass losses (Hemminga and Duarte, 2000, Ralph et al., 2007).

Most of the available information is focused on the accumulation of metals on seagrasses; scientific knowledge about the effects of heavy metals on seagrasses is limited, thus restricting a realistic assessment of their role in seagrass decline (see review in Lewis and Devereux (2009)). The toxicity database consists of results for about ten species, but most commonly for Zostera and Halophila species; copper, cadmium, lead and zinc have been mainly used as test substances in toxicity tests, and photosynthetic activity, photosynthetic pigment concentration, growth rate and leaf cell mortality as response parameters (Lewis and Devereux, 2009). Information on the effects of metals on seagrass species which display extensive distribution and notable ecological importance is currently missing (Lewis and Devereux, 2009). This also applies to Cymodocea nodosa (Ucria) Ascherson, which along with Posidonia oceanica (L.) Delile are the most important and widespread seagrasses in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, we are not aware of any published data concerning the effects of metals on the microtubule (MT) cytoskeleton in seagrasses, despite the fact that MTs play an essential role in higher plant morphogenesis and growth (Hasezawa and Kumagai, 2002) and represent one of the intra-cellular targets of metal ions (review by Adamakis et al. (2012) and references therein).

Potential disturbances induced by metals to MT cytoskeleton in seagrass cells could be used as a biomarker for the evaluation of metal contamination in coastal environments and could provide evidence about the role of metals in seagrass decline. Biomarkers, defined as “cellular, molecular and biochemical changes induced by chemical pollutants, measurable in biological systems such tissues, cells and biological fluids” (Depledge et al., 1995), are increasingly utilized in monitoring programmes; they can provide information on the potential impact of toxic pollutants on the health of organisms and can be used as early warning signals for general or particular stress (see synthesis in Ferrat et al., 2003).

The present study aims to provide information on the toxic effects of metals on seagrass condition. We investigated under laboratory conditions the effects of increasing concentrations of copper (Cu), nickel (Ni) and hexavalent chromium (Cr) on the microtubule cytoskeleton organization in leaf meristematic cells and the viability of leaf cells of the seagrass C. nodosa for 13 consecutive days. Notable changes in microtubule organization occurring at earlier time than cell death are checked and the suitability of microtubule integrity as a biomarker of metal-induced stress is discussed.

Section snippets

Plant collection

C. nodosa was collected from the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thessaloniki, Northern Aegean Sea at Viamyl site (site V, 40°33′N, 22°58′E) at 0.7–1.0m depth in July 2011 with a 20cm diameter acrylic corer, which penetrated to a depth of 30cm. All plants were rinsed in seawater at the collection site and transported to the laboratory in plastic containers containing seawater (Malea and Zikidou, 2011; unpublished data).


Fresh green plants without epiphytes were kept for 24h in seawater under


The cortical microtubule array of interphase leaf cells of untreated plants typically consisted of a dense network with variously oriented microtubules, either transverse or oblique to long axis (Fig. 1a). Moreover numerous cells were found in phases of the cell division in which distinct MT systems were observed: young as well as mature preprophase MT bands (PMBs); preprophase perinuclear MT arrays, prophase and metaphase spindles (Fig. 1b), similar to what is typically observed in higher land


Metals have been demonstrated to exert adverse effects on marine angiosperms. These effects include a loss of pigmentation, growth disturbances, foliar deformations, tissue and cell necrosis (among others see Lyngby and Brix, 1984, Malea, 1994, Malea and Haritonidis, 1996, Malea et al., 1995a, Malea et al., 1995b, Ralph and Burchett, 1998, Macinnis-Ng and Ralph, 2002). Adding up to the above, the fact that metals in C. nodosa affect MTs could result in many malformations that could deteriorate


We present here the first attempt to assess the effects of metals on the microtubule cytoskeleton organization in seagrass cells. Microtubule cytoskeleton on C. nodosa leaf cells proved to be at early time sensitive to hexavalent chromium and, even more, nickel and copper stress. Our results indicate that microtubules in seagrass leaf cells could be used as a suitable and early marker of metal-induced stress and could provide evidence about the role of metals in seagrass decline. Given that no


The authors thank Dr. Anastasia Tsingotjidou (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece) for generously proving access to the Nikon D-Eclipse C1 CLSM, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped the manuscript to be improved.

Cited by (37)

  • Responses of the Mediterranean seagrass Cymodocea nodosa to combined temperature and salinity stress at the ionomic, transcriptomic, ultrastructural and photosynthetic levels

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    The Little Neptune grass Cymodocea nodosa is a key seagrass species in the Mediterranean Sea, forming extensive and patchy meadows in shallow coastal and transitional ecosystems. In such habitats, high temperatures and salinities, separately and in combination, can be significant stressors in the context of climate change, particularly during heatwave events, and seawater desalination plant effluents.

    Despite well-documented negative, macroscopic effects, the underlying cellular and molecular processes of the combined effects of increasing temperature and salinities have remained largely elusive in C. nodosa – which are addressed by the present study. High salinity and high temperature, alone and in combination, affected ion equilibrium in the plant cells. Non-synonymous mutations marked the transcriptomic response to salinity and temperature stress at loci related to osmotic stress. Cell structure, especially the nucleus, chloroplasts, mitochondria and organization of the MT cytoskeleton, was also altered. Both temperature and salinity stress negatively affected photosynthetic activity as evidenced by ΔF/Fm’, following an antagonistic interaction type.

    Overall, this study showed that all biological levels investigated were strongly affected by temperature and salinity stress, however, with the latter having more severe effects. The results have implications for the operation of desalination plants and for assessing the impacts of marine heat waves.

  • Trace metal accumulation in seagrass and saltmarsh ecosystems of India: comparative assessment and bioindicator potential

    2022, Marine Pollution Bulletin

    Coastal macrophytes serve as bioindicators of coastal trace metal contamination. In this study, trace metal levels in India's seagrass and saltmarsh ecosystems were assessed for their suitability as bioindicators of metal contamination. Trace metal accumulation and bioindicator potential of both seagrasses and saltmarshes were found to be metal and species-specific. Higher concentrations of Cu, Fe, Mg and Mn were found in the tissues of seagrasses, while saltmarshes showed higher accumulation of Cd, Cr, Hg, Ni, Pb and Zn. The leaves of seagrasses are suitable bioindicator of metals in the water column, while the roots and rhizomes of saltmarshes/seagrasses are suitable bioindicators of metals in the sediment. This study proposes the development of a monitoring network using seagrasses and saltmarss as model organisms for short and long-term monitoring of coastal metal contamination. Determining the phytotoxic levels of trace metals in seagrasses and saltmarsh is important for monitoring plant die-offs and loss.

  • Ammonium regulates redox homeostasis and photosynthetic ability to mitigate copper toxicity in wheat seedlings

    2021, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety

    As an essential plant micronutrient, copper (Cu) is required as a component of several enzymes, but it can be highly toxic to plants when present in excess quantities. Nitrogen (N) application can help to alleviate the phytotoxic effects of heavy metals, including Cu, and different N forms significantly affect the uptake and accumulation of heavy metals in plants. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of different N forms, i.e., ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3), on Cu detoxification in wheat seedlings. The inhibition of seedling growth under excess Cu was more obvious in wheat plants supplied with NO3 than in those supplied with NH4+. This growth inhibition was directly induced by excess Cu accumulation and reduced absorption of other mineral nutrients by the plants. Compared with seedlings treated with NO3, those treated with NH4+ showed a decrease in Cu-induced toxicity as a result of increased antioxidant capacity in the leaves and a lower redox potential in the rhizosphere. Furthermore, treatment with NH4+ decreased the loss of mineral nutrients in wheat seedlings exposed to excess Cu. In conclusion, compared with supplying NO3, supplying NH4+ to wheat seedlings under Cu stress improved their ability to maintain their nutritional and redox balance and increased their antioxidant capacity, thereby preventing a decline in photosynthesis. According to our results, NH4+ is more effective than NO3 in reducing Cu phytotoxicity in wheat seedlings.

  • Endocrine disrupting effects of copper and cadmium in the oocytes of the Antarctic Emerald rockcod Trematomus bernacchii

    2021, Chemosphere

    Citation Excerpt :

    Cu however does affect oogenesis as indicated by the increased number of degenerating oocytes, revealed by a significant increase in deformities (Munkittrick and Dixon, 1989). The extensive disorganization of the cytosol, in particular, suggests a direct interference of Cu on microtubules assembly (Malea et al., 2013), a hypothesis also supported by the reduced cytosolic positivity to the lectin Concanavalin A, a marker for glycosylated tubulins (Hino et al., 2003). Alternatively, an indirect action can be postulated, with copper depressing the energy metabolism (Bundy et al., 2008) and, consequently, reducing fish resources for reproduction, a stress signal conventionally activating mass atresia (Mendo et al., 2016; Rideout et al., 2000).

    Antarctica has long been considered a continent free from anthropic interference. Unfortunately, recent evidence indicate that metal contamination has gone so far and that its effects are still unknown. For this reason, in the present work, the potential endocrine disrupting effect of two highly polluting metals, copper and cadmium, were examined in the Antarctic teleost Trematomus bernacchii. After a 10 days waterborne exposure, ovarian metal uptake was determined by atomic absorption; in parallel, classical histological approaches were adopted to determine the effects on oocyte morphology, carbohydrate composition and presence and localization of progesterone and estrogen receptors. Results show that both metals induce oocyte degeneration in about one third of the previtellogenic oocytes, no matter the stage of development. In apparently healthy oocytes, changes in cytoplasm, cortical alveoli and/or chorion carbohydrates composition are observed. Cadmium but not copper also induces significant changes in the localization of progesterone and beta-estrogen receptors, a result that well correlates with the observed increase in ovarian metals concentrations. In conclusion, the acute modifications detected are suggestive of a significantly impaired fecundity and of a marked endocrine disrupting effects of copper and cadmium in this teleost species.

  • Structural and physiological effects of chromium uptake in the seagrass Halophila stipulacea

    2021, Ecological Indicators

    This work aims to provide insight on the effects of chromium (Cr) uptake in seagrasses at environmentally relevant exposure concentrations; information on this issue can further increase the utility of marine angiosperms as indicators of trace metal contamination. Cr uptake kinetics, effects on physiological and structural cell traits, and the uptake-effects relationship in Halophila stipulacea leaves incubated in 0.01–10mgL−1 (0.2–200μM) of Cr (VI) were examined. An initial uptake was followed by a decrease at 0.01–0.5mgL−1 (0.2–10μM); at higher exposures, the fit of uptake data to a Michaelis-Menten-type equation was significant (p<0.001). The mean tissue concentration over the exposure period, and the highest tissue concentration attained both increased as exposure concentration (Cw) increased from 0.05 to 10mgL−1 (1 to 200μM); uptake rate generally increased with Cw. Cytotoxic effects occurred even at 0.01mgL−1 (0.2μM). Actin filaments (AFs) and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) were impacted in a dose- and time- dependent pattern, while microtubule integrity was not markedly affected even at the highest exposure. AF disruption in differentiating cells initiated at 0.01mgL−1 (0.2μM), while ER disorganization did so at 0.1mgL−1 (2μM); regression equations described the relationships of Cw vs. time required for effect onset, and of Cw vs. AF disturbance progress. Elevated levels of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) were detected on the 2d. In addition, a significant reduction in epidermal cell viability appeared at 5–10 or 10mgL−1 (100–200 or 200μM), depending on the leaf age. The lowest tissue concentration associated with effect onset was 31.05μgg−1 dry wt (2d, 5mgL−1); at lower exposures, higher tissue concentrations did not coincide with impact, implying that the uptake rate rather than the tissue concentration relates to the effect onset. The above suggest that (a) Cr (VI) may pose a high risk to seagrass meadows, (b) H. stipulacea can act as a bioindicator of ambient Cr (VI) bioavailability, mainly at elevated exposure concentrations, (c) AF and ER disturbances in seagrass leaf cells could be considered as sensitive biomarkers of Cr (VI)-induced stress, (d) regression equations describing the relationships Cw vs. time required for effect onset and Cw vs. effect progress increase the utility of AF and ER impairment as biomarkers, and (e) the time frame of the exposure should be considered in the interpretation of tissue residues. Our findings improve the utility of seagrasses as indicators of trace metal contamination and could be utilized in the overall effort for seagrass meadows conservation.

  • Evaluation of the spatiotemporal effects of bisphenol A on the leaves of the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa

    2021, Journal of Hazardous Materials

    The organic pollutant bisphenol A (BPA) causes adverse effects on aquatic biota. The present study explored the toxicity mechanism of environmentally occurring BPA concentrations (0.03–3μgL−1) on the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa intermediate leaf photosynthetic machinery. A "mosaic" type BPA effect pattern was observed, with "unaffected" and "affected”" leaf areas. In negatively affected leaf areas cells had a dark appearance and lost their chlorophyll auto-fluorescence, while hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) content increased time-dependently. In the "unaffected" leaf areas, cells exhibited increased phenolic compound production. At 1μgL−1 of BPA exposure, there was no effect on the fraction of open reaction centers (qP) compared to control and also no significant effect on the quantum yield of non-regulated non-photochemical energy loss in PSII (ΦΝΟ). However, a 3μgL−1 BPA application resulted in a significant ΦΝΟ increase, even from the first exposure day. Ultrastructural observations revealed electronically dense damaged thylakoids in the plastids, while effects on Golgi dictyosomes and the endoplasmic reticulum were also observed at 3μgL−1 BPA. The up-regulated H2O2 BPA-derived production seems to be a key factor causing both oxidative damages but probably also triggering retrograde signalling, conferring tolerance to BPA in the "unaffected" leaf areas.

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