Physiol Plantarum 172 (1) 201-217 [2021-05-00; online 2021-01-07]
Autumn senescence in aspen (Populus tremula) is precisely timed every year to relocate nutrients from leaves to storage organs before winter. Here we demonstrate how stem girdling, which leads to the accumulation of photosynthates in the crown, influences senescence. Girdling resulted in an early onset of senescence, but the chlorophyll degradation was slower and nitrogen more efficiently resorbed than during normal autumn senescence. Girdled stems accumulated or retained anthocyanins potentially providing photoprotection in senescing leaves. Girdling of one stem in a clonal stand sharing the same root stock did not affect senescence in the others, showing that the stems were autonomous in this respect. One girdled stem with unusually high chlorophyll and nitrogen contents maintained low carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio and did not show early senescence or depleted chlorophyll level unlike the other girdled stems suggesting that the responses depended on the genotype or its carbon and nitrogen status. Metabolite analysis highlighted that the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, salicylic acid pathway, and redox homeostasis are involved in the regulation of girdling-induced senescence. We propose that disrupted sink-source relation and C/N status can provide cues through the TCA cycle and phytohormone signaling to override the phenological control of autumn senescence in the girdled stems.