The short-term effects of coumarin on three different maize primary root zones, transition zone (TZ, 3 mm) and two non-growing zones (NGZ1 and NGZ2 at 20 and 50 mm, respectively), were studied in order to investigate the effect of the allelochemical on maize root elongation rate (RER). The RER, plasma membrane (pm) H+-ATPase activity, quantitative pH changes and cell membrane potentials were evaluated. The results showed that coumarin caused at the TZ (1) an increased RER; (2) an enhancement of pm H+-ATPase activity and proton extrusion; and (3) a transient depolarization followed by a hyperpolarization of cell membrane potential. These observations were not evident in the NGZ1 and NGZ2 of the maize root. Coumarin-treatment in the NGZ1 did not change RER, but caused a membrane depolarization, while the NGZ2 was mostly insensitive to the allelochemical. These data suggested that the primary maize root was sensitive to coumarin within a 20 mm section from the root tip, but the more distal NGZ2 was not involved in coumarin-elicited physiological responses.
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