In plant cells, antioxidants keep reactive oxygen species at low concentrations, avoiding oxidative damage while allowing them to play crucial functions in signal transduction. However, little is known about the role of antioxidants during fruit maturation, especially in legumes. Snap pea (Pisum sativum) plants, which have edible fruits, were grown under nodulating and non-nodulating conditions. Fruits were classified in three maturity stages and antioxidants were determined in the seeds and seedless pods. Maturation or prolonged storage of fruits at 25 degrees C led to a decline in antioxidant activities and metabolites and in gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase protein. Notable exceptions were superoxide dismutase activity and glutathione peroxidase protein, which increased in one or both of these processes. During maturation, cytosolic peroxiredoxin decreased in seeds but increased in pods, and ascorbate oxidase activity was largely reduced in seeds. In stored fruits, ascorbate oxidase activity was nearly abolished in seeds but doubled in pods. It is concluded that symbiotic nitrogen fixation is as effective as nitrogen fertilization in maintaining the antioxidant capacity of pea fruits and that, contrary to climacteric fruits, a general decrease in antioxidants during maturation does not involve oxidative stress. Results underscore the importance of the antioxidant system in reproductive organs and point to ascorbate-glutathione metabolism and cytosolic peroxiredoxin as key players in pea fruit development.
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