Five Coffea genotypes differing in their sensitivity to low positive temperatures were compared with regard to the effects of chilling on membrane integrity, as well as their ability to recover from cold-induced injury upon re-warming. Membrane damage was evaluated through electrolyte leakage, changes in membrane lipid composition and malondialdehyde (MDA) production in control conditions (25/20°C, day/night), after a gradual temperature decrease period to 15/10°C, after chilling treatment (3 nights at 4°C) and upon re-warming to 25/20°C during 6 days (recovery). C. dewevrei showed the highest electrolyte leakage at 15/10°C and after chilling. This was due mainly to lipid degradation observed at 15/10°C, reflecting strong membrane damage. Furthermore, MDA production after chilling conditions indicated the occurrence of lipid peroxidation. A higher susceptibility of C. dewevrei to cold also was inferred from the complete absence of recovery as regards permeability, contrary to what was observed in the remaining plants. Apoatã and Piatã presented significant leakage values after chilling. However, such effects were reversible under recovery conditions. Exposure to cold (15/10°C and 3 × 15/4°C) did not significantly affect membrane permeability in Catuaí and Icatú. Furthermore, no significant MDA production was observed even after chilling treatments in Apoatã, Piatã, Catuaí and Icatú, suggesting that the four genotypes had the ability to maintain membrane integrity and/or repair membrane damage caused by low temperatures. Apoatã, Piatã and, to a lower extent, Catuaí, were able to cope with gradual temperature decrease through an enhanced lipid biosynthesis. After acclimation, Piatã and Catuaí showed a lowering of digalactosyldiacylglycerol to monogalactosyldiacylglycerol ratio (MGDG/DGDG) as a result of enhanced DGDG synthesis, which represents an increase in membrane stability. The same was observed in Apoatã after chilling, in spite of phospholipids decrease. The studied parameters clearly indicated that chilling induced irreversible membrane damage in C. dewevrei. We also concluded that increased lipid synthesis, lower MGDG/DGDG ratio, and changes in membrane unsaturation occurring during acclimation to low temperatures may be critical factors in maintenance of cellular integrity under chilling.
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