Drought stress occurring during the reproductive growth stage leads to considerable reductions in crop production and has become an important limiting factor for food security globally. In order to explore the possible role of drought priming (pre-exposure of the plants to mild drought stress) on the alleviation of a severe drought stress event later in development, wheat plants were subjected to single or double mild drought episodes (soil relative water content around 35-40%) before anthesis and/or to a severe drought stress event (soil relative water content around 20-25%) 15 d after anthesis. Here, single or double drought priming before anthesis resulted in higher grain yield than in non-primed plants under drought stress during grain filling. The photosynthesis rate and ascorbate peroxidase activity were higher while malondialdehyde content was lower in primed plants than in the non-primed plants under drought stress during grain filling. Proteins in flag leaves differently expressed by the priming and drought stress were mainly related to photosynthesis, stress defence, metabolism, molecular chaperone, and cell structure. Furthermore, the protein abundance of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) small subunit, Rubisco activase and ascorbate peroxidase were upregulated in primed plants compared with non-primed plants under drought stress during grain filling. In conclusion, the altered protein expression and upregulated activities of photosynthesis and ascorbate peroxidase in primed plants may indicate their potential roles in alleviating a later-occurring drought stress episode, thereby contributing to higher wheat grain yield under drought stress during grain filling.
Journal of Experimental Botany, 2014, Vol 65, Issue 22, p. 6441-6456