The present review highlights the importance of the temporal patterns of stress signals (signal on demand) in directing the response of salt-stressed plants towards adaptation or cell death.
Salinity does not only stress plants but also challenges human life and the economy by posing severe constraints upon agriculture. To understand salt adaptation strategies of plants, it is central to extend agricultural production to salt-affected soils. Despite high impact and intensive research, it has been difficult to dissect the plant responses to salt stress and to define the decisive key factors for the outcome of salinity signalling. To connect the rapidly accumulating data from different systems, treatments, and organization levels (whole-plant, cellular, and molecular), and to identify the appropriate correlations among them, a clear conceptual framework is required. Similar to other stress responses, the molecular nature of the signals evoked after the onset of salt stress seems to be general, as with that observed in response to many other stimuli, and should not be considered to confer specificity per se. The focus of the current review is therefore on the temporal patterns of signals conveyed by molecules such as Ca2+, H+, reactive oxygen species, abscisic acid, and jasmonate. We propose that the outcome of the salinity response (adaptation versus cell death) depends on the timing with which these signals appear and disappear. In this context, the often-neglected non-selective cation channels are relevant. We also propose that constraining a given signal is as important as its induction, as it is the temporal competence of signalling (signal on demand) that confers specificity.