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1.  Structure and function of enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of phenylpropanoids 
As a major component of plant specialized metabolism, phenylpropanoid biosynthetic pathways provide anthocyanins for pigmentation, flavonoids such as flavones for protection against UV photodamage, various flavonoid and isoflavonoid inducers of Rhizobium nodulation genes, polymeric lignin for structural support and assorted antimicrobial phytoalexins. As constituents of plant-rich diets and an assortment of herbal medicinal agents, the phenylpropanoids exhibit measurable cancer chemopreventive, antimitotic, estrogenic, antimalarial, antioxidant and antiasthmatic activities. The health benefits of consuming red wine, which contains significant amounts of 3,4′,5-trihydroxystilbene (resveratrol) and other phenylpropanoids, highlight the increasing awareness in the medical community and the public at large as to the potential dietary importance of these plant derived compounds. As recently as a decade ago, little was known about the three-dimensional structure of the enzymes involved in these highly branched biosynthetic pathways. Ten years ago, we initiated X-ray crystallographic analyses of key enzymes of this pathway, complemented by biochemical and enzyme engineering studies. We first investigated chalcone synthase (CHS), the entry point of the flavonoid pathway, and its close relative stilbene synthase (STS). Work soon followed on the O-methyl transferases (OMTs) involved in modifications of chalcone, isoflavonoids and metabolic precursors of lignin. More recently, our groups and others have extended the range of phenylpropanoid pathway structural investigations to include the upstream enzymes responsible for the initial recruitment of phenylalanine and tyrosine, as well as a number of reductases, acyltransferases and ancillary tailoring enzymes of phenylpropanoid-derived metabolites. These structure–function studies collectively provide a comprehensive view of an important aspect of phenylpropanoid metabolism. More specifically, these atomic resolution insights into the architecture and mechanistic underpinnings of phenylpropanoid metabolizing enzymes contribute to our understanding of the emergence and on-going evolution of specialized phenylpropanoid products, and underscore the molecular basis of metabolic biodiversity at the chemical level. Finally, the detailed knowledge of the structure, function and evolution of these enzymes of specialized metabolism provide a set of experimental templates for the enzyme and metabolic engineering of production platforms for diverse novel compounds with desirable dietary and medicinal properties.
PMCID: PMC2860624  PMID: 18272377
Phenylpropanoid pathway; Secondary metabolism; Lignin; Flavonoids; Anthocyanins; Plant enzymes; Structure
2.  Stress-responsive hydroxycinnamate glycosyltransferase modulates phenylpropanoid metabolism in Populus  
Journal of Experimental Botany  2014;65(15):4191-4200.
UGT84A produces a dynamic pool of hydroxycinnamoyl-glucose esters in vegetative tissues and can modulate phenylpropanoid metabolism in response to developmental and environmental cues, such as nitrogen limitation, in Populus.
The diversity of phenylpropanoids offers a rich inventory of bioactive chemicals that can be exploited for plant improvement and human health. Recent evidence suggests that glycosylation may play a role in the partitioning of phenylpropanoid precursors for a variety of downstream uses. This work reports the functional characterization of a stress-responsive glycosyltransferase, GT1-316 in Populus. GT1-316 belongs to the UGT84A subfamily of plant glycosyltransferase family 1 and is designated UGT84A17. Recombinant protein analysis showed that UGT84A17 is a hydroxycinnamate glycosyltransferase and able to accept a range of unsubstituted and substituted cinnamic and benzoic acids as substrates in vitro. Overexpression of GT1-316 in transgenic Populus led to plant-wide increases of hydroxycinnamoyl-glucose esters, which were further elevated under N-limiting conditions. Levels of the two most abundant flavonoid glycosides, rutin and kaempferol-3-O-rutinoside, decreased, while levels of other less abundant flavonoid and phenylpropanoid conjugates increased in leaves of the GT1-316-overexpressing plants. Transcript levels of representative phenylpropanoid pathway genes were unchanged in transgenic plants, supporting a glycosylation-mediated redirection of phenylpropanoid carbon flow as opposed to enhanced phenylpropanoid pathway flux. The metabolic response of N-replete transgenic plants overlapped with that of N-stressed wild types, as the majority of phenylpropanoid derivatives significantly affected by GT1-316 overexpression were also significantly changed by N stress in the wild types. These results suggest that UGT84A17 plays an important role in phenylpropanoid metabolism by modulating biosynthesis of hydroxycinnamoyl-glucose esters and their derivatives in response to developmental and environmental cues.
PMCID: PMC4112628  PMID: 24803501
Glycosylation; hydroxycinnamate glucose ester; metabolite profiling; phenylpropanoid; Populus; stress; UGT84A.
3.  Energy dissipation and radical scavenging by the plant phenylpropanoid pathway. 
Environmental stresses such as high light, low temperatures, pathogen infection and nutrient deficiency can lead to increased production of free radicals and other oxidative species in plants. A growing body of evidence suggests that plants respond to these biotic and abiotic stress factors by increasing their capacity to scavenge reactive oxygen species. Efforts to understand this acclimatory process have focused on the components of the 'classical' antioxidant system, i.e. superoxide dismutase, ascorbate peroxidase, catalase, monodehydroascorbate reductase, glutathione reductase and the low molecular weight antioxidants ascorbate and glutathione. However, relatively few studies have explored the role of secondary metabolic pathways in plant response to oxidative stress. A case in point is the phenylpropanoid pathway which is responsible for the synthesis of a diverse array of phenolic metabolites such as flavonoids, tannins, hydroxycinnamate esters and the structural polymer lignin. These compounds are often induced by stress and serve specific roles in plant protection, i.e. pathogen defence, ultraviolet screening, antiherbivory, or structural components of the cell wall. This review will highlight a novel antioxidant function for the taxonomically widespread phenylpropanoid metabolite chlorogenic acid (CGA; 5-O-caffeoylquinic acid) and assess its possible role in abiotic stress tolerance. The relationship between CGA biosynthesis and photosynthetic carbon metabolism will also be discussed. Based on the properties of this model phenolic metabolite, we propose that under stress conditions phenylpropanoid biosynthesis may represent an alternative pathway for photochemical energy dissipation that has the added benefit of enhancing the antioxidant capacity of the cell.
PMCID: PMC1692864  PMID: 11128003
4.  Putting bugs to the blush 
Bioengineered  2013;4(6):355-362.
Phenylpropanoids and phenylpropanoid-derived phenolic compounds such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, or stilbenes are secondary plant metabolites which serve as pigments and scent compounds or provide protection against environmental stress. Due to their antioxidant properties they also have been widely recognized for their benefit on human health. Traditionally, such compounds are extracted from their natural plant sources, but this approach is limited by low abundance and environmental, seasonal as well as regional variations in yield. Chemical synthesis is not a true alternative for the large scale production of more complex phenylpropanoid-derived substances since chemical synthesis becomes commercially unfeasible as the structural complexity of these plant natural products increases. In the last years, many biosynthetic pathways for plant natural products have been elucidated through the advancements in DNA sequencing technologies. In combination with new recombinant DNA technologies this technical progress opens the door toward the functional integration of full biosynthetic pathways for the synthesis of phenylpropanoids and phenylpropanoid-derived compounds in microorganisms. We believe that this approach has great potential to provide sufficient quantities of the desired plant natural product from cheap and renewable resources. This commentary highlights recent advances in the microbial production of phenylpropanoid-derived compounds with an emphasis on flavonoids and stilbenes.
PMCID: PMC3937195  PMID: 23851446
phenylpropanoids; flavonoids; anthocyanins; stilbenes; lignans; coumarins; plant natural products; synthetic biology; metabolic engineering; combinatorial biosynthesis
5.  Differential effects of environment on potato phenylpropanoid and carotenoid expression 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:39.
Plant secondary metabolites, including phenylpropanoids and carotenoids, are stress inducible, have important roles in potato physiology and influence the nutritional value of potatoes. The type and magnitude of environmental effects on tuber phytonutrients is unclear, especially under modern agricultural management that minimizes stress. Understanding factors that influence tuber secondary metabolism could facilitate production of more nutritious crops. Metabolite pools of over forty tuber phenylpropanoids and carotenoids, along with the expression of twenty structural genes, were measured in high-phenylpropanoid purple potatoes grown in environmentally diverse locations in North America (Alaska, Texas and Florida).
Phenylpropanoids, including chlorogenic acid (CGA), were higher in samples from the northern latitudes, as was the expression of phenylpropanoid genes including phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL), which had over a ten-fold difference in relative abundance. Phenylpropanoid gene expression appeared coordinately regulated and was well correlated with metabolite pools, except for hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA:quinatehydroxcinnamoyl transferase (HQT; r = -0.24). In silico promoter analysis identified two cis-acting elements in the HQT promoter not found in the other phenylpropanoid genes. Anthocyanins were more abundant in Alaskan samples and correlated with flavonoid genes including DFR (r = 0.91), UFGT (r = 0.94) and F3H (r = 0.77). The most abundant anthocyanin was petunidin-3-coum-rutinoside-5-glu, which ranged from 4.7 mg g-1 in Alaska to 2.3 mg g-1 in Texas. Positive correlations between tuber sucrose and anthocyanins (r = 0.85), suggested a stimulatory effect of sucrose. Smaller variation was observed in total carotenoids, but marked differences occurred in individual carotenoids, which had over a ten-fold range. Violaxanthin, lutein or zeaxanthin were the predominant carotenoids in tubers from Alaska, Texas and Florida respectively. Unlike in the phenylpropanoid pathway, poor correlations occurred between carotenoid transcripts and metabolites.
Analysis of tuber secondary metabolism showed interesting relationships among different metabolites in response to collective environmental influences, even under conditions that minimize stress. The variation in metabolites shows the considerable phenotypical plasticity possible with tuber secondary metabolism and raises questions about to what extent these pathways can be stimulated by environmental cues in a manner that optimizes tuber phytonutrient content while protecting yields. The differences in secondary metabolites may be sufficient to affect nutritional quality.
PMCID: PMC3342224  PMID: 22429339
phenolics; chlorogenic acid; anthocyanins; carotenoids; gene expression; PAL; antioxidants; potatoes; sucrose; promoters.
6.  Biosynthesis of plant-specific stilbene polyketides in metabolically engineered Escherichia coli 
BMC Biotechnology  2006;6:22.
Phenylpropanoids are the precursors to a range of important plant metabolites such as the cell wall constituent lignin and the secondary metabolites belonging to the flavonoid/stilbene class of compounds. The latter class of plant natural products has been shown to function in a wide range of biological activities. During the last few years an increasing number of health benefits have been associated with these compounds. In particular, they demonstrate potent antioxidant activity and the ability to selectively inhibit certain tyrosine kinases. Biosynthesis of many medicinally important plant secondary metabolites, including stilbenes, is frequently not very well understood and under tight spatial and temporal control, limiting their availability from plant sources. As an alternative, we sought to develop an approach for the biosynthesis of diverse stilbenes by engineered recombinant microbial cells.
A pathway for stilbene biosynthesis was constructed in Escherichia coli with 4-coumaroyl CoA ligase 1 4CL1) from Arabidopsis thaliana and stilbene synthase (STS) cloned from Arachis hypogaea. E. coli cultures expressing these enzymes together converted the phenylpropionic acid precursor 4-coumaric acid, added to the growth medium, to the stilbene resveratrol (>100 mg/L). Caffeic acid, added in the same way, resulted in the production of the expected dihydroxylated stilbene, piceatannol (>10 mg/L). Ferulic acid, however, was not converted to the expected stilbene product, isorhapontigenin. Substitution of 4CL1 with a homologous enzyme, 4CL4, with a preference for ferulic acid over 4-coumaric acid, had no effect on the conversion of ferulic acid. Accumulation of tri- and tetraketide lactones from ferulic acid, regardless of the CoA-ligase expressed in E. coli, suggests that STS cannot properly accommodate and fold the tetraketide intermediate to the corresponding stilbene structure.
Phenylpropionic acids, such as 4-coumaric acid and caffeic acid, can be efficiently converted to stilbene compounds by recombinant E. coli cells expressing plant biosynthetic genes. Optimization of precursor conversion and cyclization of the bulky ferulic acid precursor by host metabolic engineering and protein engineering may afford the synthesis of even more structurally diverse stilbene compounds.
PMCID: PMC1435877  PMID: 16551366
7.  A horizontal gene transfer at the origin of phenylpropanoid metabolism: a key adaptation of plants to land 
Biology Direct  2009;4:7.
The pioneering ancestor of land plants that conquered terrestrial habitats around 500 million years ago had to face dramatic stresses including UV radiation, desiccation, and microbial attack. This drove a number of adaptations, among which the emergence of the phenylpropanoid pathway was crucial, leading to essential compounds such as flavonoids and lignin. However, the origin of this specific land plant secondary metabolism has not been clarified.
We have performed an extensive analysis of the taxonomic distribution and phylogeny of Phenylalanine Ammonia Lyase (PAL), which catalyses the first and essential step of the general phenylpropanoid pathway, leading from phenylalanine to p-Coumaric acid and p-Coumaroyl-CoA, the entry points of the flavonoids and lignin routes. We obtained robust evidence that the ancestor of land plants acquired a PAL via horizontal gene transfer (HGT) during symbioses with soil bacteria and fungi that are known to have established very early during the first steps of land colonization. This horizontally acquired PAL represented then the basis for further development of the phenylpropanoid pathway and plant radiation on terrestrial environments.
Our results highlight a possible crucial role of HGT from soil bacteria in the path leading to land colonization by plants and their subsequent evolution. The few functional characterizations of sediment/soil bacterial PAL (production of secondary metabolites with powerful antimicrobial activity or production of pigments) suggest that the initial advantage of this horizontally acquired PAL in the ancestor of land plants might have been either defense against an already developed microbial community and/or protection against UV.
This article was reviewed by Purificación López-García, Janet Siefert, and Eugene Koonin.
PMCID: PMC2657906  PMID: 19220881
8.  Stone formation in peach fruit exhibits spatial coordination of the lignin and flavonoid pathways and similarity to Arabidopsis dehiscence 
BMC Biology  2010;8:13.
Lignification of the fruit endocarp layer occurs in many angiosperms and plays a critical role in seed protection and dispersal. This process has been extensively studied with relationship to pod shatter or dehiscence in Arabidopsis. Dehiscence is controlled by a set of transcription factors that define the fruit tissue layers and whether or not they lignify. In contrast, relatively little is known about similar processes in other plants such as stone fruits which contain an extremely hard lignified endocarp or stone surrounding a single seed.
Here we show that lignin deposition in peach initiates near the blossom end within the endocarp layer and proceeds in a distinct spatial-temporal pattern. Microarray studies using a developmental series from young fruits identified a sharp and transient induction of phenylpropanoid, lignin and flavonoid pathway genes concurrent with lignification and subsequent stone hardening. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction studies revealed that specific phenylpropanoid (phenylalanine ammonia-lyase and cinnamate 4-hydroxylase) and lignin (caffeoyl-CoA O-methyltransferase, peroxidase and laccase) pathway genes were induced in the endocarp layer over a 10 day time period, while two lignin genes (p-coumarate 3-hydroxylase and cinnamoyl CoA reductase) were co-regulated with flavonoid pathway genes (chalcone synthase, dihydroflavanol 4-reductase, leucoanthocyanidin dioxygen-ase and flavanone-3-hydrosylase) which were mesocarp and exocarp specific. Analysis of other fruit development expression studies revealed that flavonoid pathway induction is conserved in the related Rosaceae species apple while lignin pathway induction is not. The transcription factor expression of peach genes homologous to known endocarp determinant genes in Arabidopsis including SHATTERPROOF, SEEDSTCK and NAC SECONDARY WALL THICENING PROMOTING FACTOR 1 were found to be specifically expressed in the endocarp while the negative regulator FRUITFUL predominated in exocarp and mesocarp.
Collectively, the data suggests, first, that the process of endocarp determination and differentiation in peach and Arabidopsis share common regulators and, secondly, reveals a previously unknown coordination of competing lignin and flavonoid biosynthetic pathways during early fruit development.
PMCID: PMC2830173  PMID: 20144217
9.  Activation of the Phenylpropanoid Pathway in Nicotiana tabacum Improves the Performance of the Whitefly Bemisia tabaci via Reduced Jasmonate Signaling 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76619.
Phloem-feeding insects can manipulate plant-induced resistance and are able to suppress effective jasmonic acid/ethylene (JA/ET) defenses by the induction of inefficient salicylic acid (SA) based responses. As a result, activation of the phenylpropanoid biosynthesis pathway in transgenic plants is anticipated to cause complex interactions between phloem-feeding insects and their host plants due to predicted contradiction between two defense forces: the toxicity of various phenylpropanoids and the accumulation of SA via a branch of the activated pathway.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here, we investigated the effect of activating the phenylpropanoids pathway in Nicotiana tabacum, by over-expression of the PAP1 transcription factor, on the whitefly Bemisia tabaci, a phloem-feeding insect model. Our performance assays indicated that the over-expression made the transgenic plants a more suitable host for B. tabaci than wild-type (WT) plants, although these plants accumulated significantly higher levels of flavonoids. Transcription analyses of indicator genes in the SA (PR1a) and JA/ET (ERF1, COI1 and AOC) pathways followed by quantification of the SA and JA hormone levels, indicated that B. tabaci infestation periods longer than 8 hours, caused higher levels of activity of SA signaling in transgenic plants and higher levels of JA/ET signaling in WT plants.
Taken together, these results emphasize the important role JA/ET-induced defenses play in protecting plants from successful infestation by B. tabaci and likely other phloem-feeding insects. It also indicates the necessity of phloem feeders to suppress these defenses for efficient utilization of plant hosts. Our data also indicate that the defensive chemistry produced by the phenylpropanoids pathway has only a minor effect on the insect fitness.
PMCID: PMC3808378  PMID: 24204646
10.  Overexpression of the PAP1 Transcription Factor Reveals a Complex Regulation of Flavonoid and Phenylpropanoid Metabolism in Nicotiana tabacum Plants Attacked by Spodoptera litura 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108849.
Anthocyanin pigments and associated flavonoids have demonstrated antioxidant properties and benefits for human health. Consequently, current plant bioengineers have focused on how to modify flavonoid metabolism in plants. Most of that research, however, does not consider the role of natural biotic stresses (e.g., herbivore attack). To understand the influence of herbivore attack on the metabolic engineering of flavonoids, we examined tobacco plants overexpressing the Arabidopsis PAP1 gene (encoding an MYB transcription factor), which accumulated anthocyanin pigments and other flavonoids/phenylpropanoids. In comparison to wild-type and control plants, transgenic plants exhibited greater resistance to Spodoptera litura. Moreover, herbivory suppressed the PAP1-induced increase of transcripts of flavonoid/phenylpropanoid biosynthetic genes (e.g., F3H) and the subsequent accumulation of these genes' metabolites, despite the unaltered PAP1 mRNA levels after herbivory. The instances of down-regulation were independent of the signaling pathways mediated by defense-related jasmonates but were relevant to the levels of PAP1-induced and herbivory-suppressed transcription factors, An1a and An1b. Although initially F3H transcripts were suppressed by herbivory, after the S. litura feeding was interrupted, F3H transcripts increased. We hypothesize that in transgenic plants responding to herbivory, there is a complex mechanism regulating enriched flavonoid/phenylpropanoid compounds, via biotic stress signals.
PMCID: PMC4182574  PMID: 25268129
11.  A bacterial quercetin oxidoreductase QuoA-mediated perturbation in the phenylpropanoid metabolic network increases lignification with a concomitant decrease in phenolamides in Arabidopsis  
Journal of Experimental Botany  2013;64(16):5183-5194.
Metabolic perturbations by a gain-of-function approach provide a means to alter steady states of metabolites and query network properties, while keeping enzyme complexes intact. A combination of genetic and targeted metabolomics approach was used to understand the network properties of phenylpropanoid secondary metabolism pathways. A novel quercetin oxidoreductase, QuoA, from Pseudomonas putida, which converts quercetin to naringenin, thus effectively reversing the biosynthesis of quercetin through a de novo pathway, was expressed in Arabidopsis thaliana. QuoA transgenic lines selected for low, medium, and high expression levels of QuoA RNA had corresponding levels of QuoA activity and hypocotyl coloration resulting from increased anthocyanin accumulation. Stems of all three QuoA lines had increased tensile strength resulting from increased lignification. Sixteen metabolic intermediates from anthocyanin, lignin, and shikimate pathways had increased accumulation, of which 11 paralleled QuoA expression levels in the transgenic lines. The concomitant upregulation of the above pathways was explained by a significant downregulation of the phenolamide pathway and its precursor, spermidine. In a tt6 mutant line, lignifications as well as levels of the lignin pathway metabolites were much lower than those of QuoA transgenic lines. Unlike QuoA lines, phenolamides and spermidine were not affected in the tt6 line. Taken together, these results suggest that phenolamide pathway plays a major role in directing metabolic intermediates into the lignin pathway. Metabolic perturbations were accompanied by downregulation of five genes associated with branch-point enzymes and upregulation of their corresponding products. These results suggest that gene–metabolite pairs are likely to be co-ordinately regulated at critical branch points. Thus, these perturbations by a gain-of-function approach have uncovered novel properties of the phenylpropanoid metabolic network.
PMCID: PMC3830493  PMID: 24085580
Anthocyanins; auxotrophic mutant; branch points; flavonoids; lignin pathway; metabolomics; plant-growth-promoting rhizobacteria; PGPR; tt6.
12.  Induced transcriptional profiling of phenylpropanoid pathway genes increased flavonoid and lignin content in Arabidopsis leaves in response to microbial products 
BMC Plant Biology  2014;14:84.
The production and use of biologically derived soil additives is one of the fastest growing sectors of the fertilizer industry. These products have been shown to improve crop yields while at the same time reducing fertilizer inputs to and nutrient loss from cropland. The mechanisms driving the changes in primary productivity and soil processes are poorly understood and little is known about changes in secondary productivity associated with the use of microbial products. Here we investigate secondary metabolic responses to a biologically derived soil additive by monitoring changes in the phenlypropanoid (PP) pathway in Arabidopsis thaliana.
This study was designed to test the influence of one of these products (Soil Builder™-AF, SB) on secondary metabolism after being applied at different times. One time (TI) application of SB to Arabidopsis increased the accumulation of flavonoids compared to multiple (TII) applications of the same products. Fourteen phenolic compounds including flavonols and anothocyanins were identified by mass spectrometry. Kaempferol-3,7-O-bis-α-L-rhamnoside and quercetin 3,7-dirhamnoside, the major compounds, increased 3-fold and 4-fold, respectively compared to control in the TI treatment. The most abundant anthocyanin was cyanidin 3-rhamnoglucoside, which increased 3-fold and 2-fold in TI compared to the control and TII, respectively. Simultaneously, the expression of genes coding for key enzymes in the PP pathway (phenylalanine ammonia lyase, cinnamate 4-hydroxylase, chalcone synthase, flavonoid-3′-O-hydroxylase, flavonol synthase1 and dihydroflavonol-4-reductase) and regulatory genes (production of anthocyanin pigment2, MYB12, MYB113, MYB114, EGL3, and TT8) were up-regulated in both treatments (TI and TII). Furthermore, application of TI and TII induced expression of the lignin pathway genes (hydroxyl cinamyl transferase, caffeyl-CoA O-methyl transferase, cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase, cinnamyl-CoA reductase, secondary wall-associated NAC domain protein1, MYB58 and MYB63 resulting in higher accumulation of lignin content compared to the control.
These results indicate that the additions of microbially based soil additives have a perceptible influence on phenylpropanoid pathway gene regulation and its production of secondary metabolites. These findings open an avenue of research to investigate the mode of action of microbially-based soil additives which may assist in the sustainable production of food, feed, fuel and fiber.
PMCID: PMC4021374  PMID: 24690446
Arabidopsis; Metabolites; Microbes; Transcriptional profiling; Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria; Soil Builder
13.  Enhanced Lignin Monomer Production Caused by Cinnamic Acid and Its Hydroxylated Derivatives Inhibits Soybean Root Growth 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e80542.
Cinnamic acid and its hydroxylated derivatives (p-coumaric, caffeic, ferulic and sinapic acids) are known allelochemicals that affect the seed germination and root growth of many plant species. Recent studies have indicated that the reduction of root growth by these allelochemicals is associated with premature cell wall lignification. We hypothesized that an influx of these compounds into the phenylpropanoid pathway increases the lignin monomer content and reduces the root growth. To confirm this hypothesis, we evaluated the effects of cinnamic, p-coumaric, caffeic, ferulic and sinapic acids on soybean root growth, lignin and the composition of p-hydroxyphenyl (H), guaiacyl (G) and syringyl (S) monomers. To this end, three-day-old seedlings were cultivated in nutrient solution with or without allelochemical (or selective enzymatic inhibitors of the phenylpropanoid pathway) in a growth chamber for 24 h. In general, the results showed that 1) cinnamic, p-coumaric, caffeic and ferulic acids reduced root growth and increased lignin content; 2) cinnamic and p-coumaric acids increased p-hydroxyphenyl (H) monomer content, whereas p-coumaric, caffeic and ferulic acids increased guaiacyl (G) content, and sinapic acid increased sinapyl (S) content; 3) when applied in conjunction with piperonylic acid (PIP, an inhibitor of the cinnamate 4-hydroxylase, C4H), cinnamic acid reduced H, G and S contents; and 4) when applied in conjunction with 3,4-(methylenedioxy)cinnamic acid (MDCA, an inhibitor of the 4-coumarate:CoA ligase, 4CL), p-coumaric acid reduced H, G and S contents, whereas caffeic, ferulic and sinapic acids reduced G and S contents. These results confirm our hypothesis that exogenously applied allelochemicals are channeled into the phenylpropanoid pathway causing excessive production of lignin and its main monomers. By consequence, an enhanced stiffening of the cell wall restricts soybean root growth.
PMCID: PMC3848980  PMID: 24312480
14.  Crossbreeding of transgenic flax plants overproducing flavonoids and glucosyltransferase results in progeny with improved antifungal and antioxidative properties 
Molecular Breeding  2014;34(4):1917-1932.
Flavonoids are a large group of secondary plant metabolites with many important functions; they play a role in fruit, flower and seed pigmentation and are involved in multiple protective mechanisms. They are very active natural antioxidants, acting as antimicrobial compounds in defense against pathogens, and they protect the plant against various stress factors, including excessive solar radiation and temperature. They are also an animal deterrent. Flax is already a very useful crop plant with nutritional and biomedical applications. With increased phenylpropanoid content, flax plants could be used in the production of improved dietary supplements and antimicrobial agents. The main aim of this study was to engineer a flax variety with increased flavonoid content by crossing two transgenic flax varieties that have heightened flavonoid levels. A mother plant that over expresses genes encoding the flavonoid biosynthesis pathway enzymes chalcone synthase, chalcone isomerase and dihydroflavonol reductase was crossed with plants overexpressing the glucosyltransferase (GT) gene. It was expected that the progeny would display better properties thanks to the simultaneous increases in flavonoid synthesis and stability. In comparison to the control and parental plants, plants of the selected flax lines were found to have increased contents of flavonoids and other phenylpropanoids, including phenolic acids, in their stems and seeds. A significant increase in the secoisolariciresinol diglucoside content was found in the seeds. The antioxidative properties of extracts from W92 × GT crossbreed plants were higher than the control (non-transgenic) and parental plants. These results correlated with the increase in the susceptibility of the crossbreeds to Fusarium infection. The increased flavonoid content did not cause any negative phenotypic changes or reduce the yield of seeds.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11032-014-0149-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4257994  PMID: 25506258
Flax; Flavonoids; Fusarium; Cross breeding; Antioxidants; Antifungal activity
15.  Metabolic Engineering of the Phenylpropanoid Pathway in Saccharomyces cerevisiae 
Flavonoids are valuable natural products derived from the phenylpropanoid pathway. The objective of this study was to create a host for the biosynthesis of naringenin, the central precursor of many flavonoids. This was accomplished by introducing the phenylpropanoid pathway with the genes for phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL) from Rhodosporidium toruloides, 4-coumarate:coenzyme A (CoA) ligase (4CL) from Arabidopsis thaliana, and chalcone synthase (CHS) from Hypericum androsaemum into two Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains, namely, AH22 and a pad1 knockout mutant. Each gene was cloned and inserted into an expression vector under the control of a separate individual GAL10 promoter. Besides its PAL activity, the recombinant PAL enzyme showed tyrosine ammonia lyase activity, which enabled the biosynthesis of naringenin without introducing cinnamate 4-hydroxylase (C4H). 4CL catalyzed the conversion of both trans-cinnamic acid and p-coumaric acid to their corresponding CoA products, which were further converted to pinocembrin chalcone and naringenin chalcone by CHS. These chalcones were cyclized to pinocembrin and naringenin. The yeast AH22 strain coexpressing PAL, 4CL, and CHS produced approximately 7 mg liter−1 of naringenin and 0.8 mg liter−1 of pinocembrin. Several by-products, such as 2′,4′,6′-trihydroxydihydrochalcone and phloretin, were also identified. Precursor feeding studies indicated that metabolic flux to the engineered flavonoid pathway was limited by the flux to the precursor l-tyrosine.
PMCID: PMC1151809  PMID: 15932991
16.  Adaptation of Arabidopsis to nitrogen limitation involves induction of anthocyanin synthesis which is controlled by the NLA gene 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2008;59(11):2933-2944.
Plants can survive a limiting nitrogen (N) supply by developing a set of N limitation adaptive responses. However, the Arabidopsis nla (nitrogen limitation adaptation) mutant fails to produce such responses, and cannot adapt to N limitation. In this study, the nla mutant was utilized to understand further the effect of NLA on Arabidopsis adaptation to N limitation. Grown with limiting N, the nla mutant could not accumulate anthocyanins and instead produced an N limitation-induced early senescence phenotype. In contrast, when supplied with limiting N and limiting phosphorus (Pi), the nla mutants accumulated abundant anthocyanins and did not show the N limitation-induced early senescence phenotype. These results support the hypothesis that Arabidopsis has a specific pathway to control N limitation-induced anthocyanin synthesis, and the nla mutation disrupts this pathway. However, the nla mutation does not affect the Pi limitation-induced anthocyanin synthesis pathway. Therefore, Pi limitation induced the nla mutant to accumulate anthocyanins under N limitation and allowed this mutant to adapt to N limitation. Under N limitation, the nla mutant had a significantly down-regulated expression of many genes functioning in anthocyanin synthesis, and an enhanced expression of genes involved in lignin production. Correspondingly, the nla mutant grown with limiting N showed a significantly lower production of anthocyanins (particularly cyanidins) and an increase in lignin contents compared with wild-type plants. These data suggest that NLA controls Arabidopsis adaptability to N limitation by channelling the phenylpropanoid metabolic flux to the induced anthocyanin synthesis, which is important for Arabidopsis to adapt to N limitation.
PMCID: PMC2504352  PMID: 18552353
Anthocyanin; Arabidopsis; adaptation; lignin; N limitation; nla mutant; phosphorus limitation
17.  CYP98A22, a phenolic ester 3’-hydroxylase specialized in the synthesis of chlorogenic acid, as a new tool for enhancing the furanocoumarin concentration in Ruta graveolens 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:152.
Furanocoumarins are molecules with proven therapeutic properties and are produced in only a small number of medicinal plant species such as Ruta graveolens. In vivo, these molecules play a protective role against phytophageous insect attack. Furanocoumarins are members of the phenylpropanoids family, and their biosynthetic pathway is initiated from p-coumaroyl coA. The enzymes belonging to the CYP98A cytochrome P450 family have been widely described as being aromatic meta-hydroxylases of various substrates, such as p-coumaroyl ester derivatives, and are involved in the synthesis of coumarins such as scopoletin. In furanocoumarin-producing plants, these enzymes catalyze the step directly downstream of the junction with the furanocoumarin biosynthetic pathway and might indirectly impact their synthesis.
In this work, we describe the cloning and functional characterization of the first CYP98A encoding gene isolated from R. graveolens. Using Nicotiana benthamiana as a heterologous expression system, we have demonstrated that this enzyme adds a 3-OH to p-coumaroyl ester derivatives but is more efficient to convert p-coumaroyl quinate into chlorogenic acid than to metabolize p-coumaroyl shikimate. Plants exposed to UV-B stress showed an enhanced expression level of the corresponding gene. The R. graveolens cyp98a22 open reading frame and the orthologous Arabidopsis thaliana cyp98a3 open reading frame were overexpressed in stable transgenic Ruta plants. Both plant series were analyzed for their production of scopoletin and furanocoumarin. A detailed analysis indicates that both genes enhance the production of furanocoumarins but that CYP98A22, unlike CYP98A3, doesn’t affect the synthesis of scopoletin.
The overexpression of CYP98A22 positively impacts the concentration of furanocoumarins in R. graveolens. This gene is therefore a valuable tool to engineer plants with improved therapeutical values that might also be more resistant to phytophageous insects.
PMCID: PMC3493272  PMID: 22931486
18.  Thiamine modulates metabolism of the phenylpropanoid pathway leading to enhanced resistance to Plasmopara viticola in grapevine 
BMC Plant Biology  2013;13:31.
Previously, we have reported the ability of thiamine (vitamin B1) to induce resistance against Plasmopara viticola in a susceptible grapevine cv. Chardonnay. However, mechanisms underlying vitamins, especially, thiamine-induced disease resistance in grapevine are still largely unknown. Here, we assessed whether thiamine could modulate phenylpropanoid pathway-derived phytoalexins in grapevine plants, as well as, the role of such secondary metabolites in thiamine-induced resistance process to P. viticola.
Our data show that thiamine treatment elicited the expression of phenylpropanoid pathway genes in grapevine plants. The expression of these genes correlated with an accumulation of stilbenes, phenolic compounds, flavonoids and lignin. Furthermore, the total anti-oxidant potential of thiamine-treaded plants was increased by 3.5-fold higher level as compared with untreated-control plants. Four phenolic compounds are responsible of 97% of the total anti-oxidant potential of thiamine-treated plants. Among these compounds, is the caftaric acid, belonging to the hydroxy-cinnamic acids family. This element contributed, by its own, by 20% of this total anti-oxidant potential. Epifluorescence microscopy analysis revealed a concomitant presence of unbranched-altered P. viticola mycelia and stilbenes production in the leaf mesophyll of thiamine-treated inoculated plants, suggesting that stilbenes are an important component of thiamine-induced resistance in grapevine.
This work is the first to show the role of thiamine, as a vitamin, in the modulation of grapevine plant secondary metabolism contributing to an enhanced resistance to P. viticola, the most destructive fungal disease in vineyards.
PMCID: PMC3599452  PMID: 23442597
Thiamine; Plasmopara viticola; Stilbenes; Phenylpropanoid pathway genes; Lignin; Flavonoids; Grapevine; Induced resistance; Real-Time q-PCR; HPLC; UPLC-MS
19.  De novo sequencing and comparative analysis of holy and sweet basil transcriptomes 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):588.
Ocimum L. of family Lamiaceae is a well known genus for its ethnobotanical, medicinal and aromatic properties, which are attributed to innumerable phenylpropanoid and terpenoid compounds produced by the plant. To enrich genomic resources for understanding various pathways, de novo transcriptome sequencing of two important species, O. sanctum and O. basilicum, was carried out by Illumina paired-end sequencing.
The sequence assembly resulted in 69117 and 130043 transcripts with an average length of 1646 ± 1210.1 bp and 1363 ± 1139.3 bp for O. sanctum and O. basilicum, respectively. Out of the total transcripts, 59648 (86.30%) and 105470 (81.10%) from O. sanctum and O. basilicum, and respectively were annotated by uniprot blastx against Arabidopsis, rice and lamiaceae. KEGG analysis identified 501 and 952 transcripts from O. sanctum and O. basilicum, respectively, related to secondary metabolism with higher percentage of transcripts for biosynthesis of terpenoids in O. sanctum and phenylpropanoids in O. basilicum. Higher digital gene expression in O. basilicum was validated through qPCR and correlated to higher essential oil content and chromosome number (O. sanctum, 2n = 16; and O. basilicum, 2n = 48). Several CYP450 (26) and TF (40) families were identified having probable roles in primary and secondary metabolism. Also SSR and SNP markers were identified in the transcriptomes of both species with many SSRs linked to phenylpropanoid and terpenoid pathway genes.
This is the first report of a comparative transcriptome analysis of Ocimum species and can be utilized to characterize genes related to secondary metabolism, their regulation, and breeding special chemotypes with unique essential oil composition in Ocimum.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-588) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4125705  PMID: 25015319
Comparative transcriptomics; Chromosome; Ocimum sanctum; Ocimum basilicum; Phenylpropanoids; Terpenoids
20.  Evolution of plant senescence 
Senescence is integral to the flowering plant life-cycle. Senescence-like processes occur also in non-angiosperm land plants, algae and photosynthetic prokaryotes. Increasing numbers of genes have been assigned functions in the regulation and execution of angiosperm senescence. At the same time there has been a large expansion in the number and taxonomic spread of plant sequences in the genome databases. The present paper uses these resources to make a study of the evolutionary origins of angiosperm senescence based on a survey of the distribution, across plant and microbial taxa, and expression of senescence-related genes.
Phylogeny analyses were carried out on protein sequences corresponding to genes with demonstrated functions in angiosperm senescence. They include proteins involved in chlorophyll catabolism and its control, homeoprotein transcription factors, metabolite transporters, enzymes and regulators of carotenoid metabolism and of anthocyanin biosynthesis. Evolutionary timelines for the origins and functions of particular genes were inferred from the taxonomic distribution of sequences homologous to those of angiosperm senescence-related proteins. Turnover of the light energy transduction apparatus is the most ancient element in the senescence syndrome. By contrast, the association of phenylpropanoid metabolism with senescence, and integration of senescence with development and adaptation mediated by transcription factors, are relatively recent innovations of land plants. An extended range of senescence-related genes of Arabidopsis was profiled for coexpression patterns and developmental relationships and revealed a clear carotenoid metabolism grouping, coordinated expression of genes for anthocyanin and flavonoid enzymes and regulators and a cluster pattern of genes for chlorophyll catabolism consistent with functional and evolutionary features of the pathway.
The expression and phylogenetic characteristics of senescence-related genes allow a framework to be constructed of decisive events in the evolution of the senescence syndrome of modern land-plants. Combining phylogenetic, comparative sequence, gene expression and morphogenetic information leads to the conclusion that biochemical, cellular, integrative and adaptive systems were progressively added to the ancient primary core process of senescence as the evolving plant encountered new environmental and developmental contexts.
PMCID: PMC2716323  PMID: 19602260
21.  Flavonoid engineering of flax potentiate its biotechnological application 
BMC Biotechnology  2011;11:10.
Flavonoids are a group of secondary plant metabolites important for plant growth and development. They show also a protective effect against colon and breast cancer, diabetes, hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis, lupus nephritis, and immune and inflammatory reactions. Thus, overproduction of these compounds in flax by genetic engineering method might potentiate biotechnological application of these plant products.
Flax plants of third generation overexpressing key genes of flavonoid pathway cultivated in field were used as plant material throughout this study. The biochemical properties of seed, oil and seedcake extracts and fibre from natural and transgenic flax plants were compared. The data obtained suggests that the introduced genes were stably inherited and expressed through plant generations.
Overproduction of flavonoid compounds resulted in increase of fatty acids accumulation in oil from transgenic seeds due to protection from oxidation offered during synthesis and seed maturation. The biochemical analysis of seedcake extracts from seeds of transgenic flax revealed significant increase in flavonoids (kaempferol), phenolic acids (coumaric, ferulic, synapic acids) and lignan content. Fibres, another product of flax plant showed increase in the level of catechine and acetylvanillone and decrease in phenolic acids upon flax modification.
Biochemical analysis results were confirmed using IR spectroscopy. The integral intensities of IR bands have been used for identification of the component of phenylpropanoid pathway in oil, seedcake extract and fibre from control and transgenic flax. It was shown that levels of flavonoids, phenolic acids and lignans in oil and seedcake extract was higher in transgenic flax products compared to control. An FT-IR study of fibres confirmed the biochemical data and revealed that the arrangement of the cellulose polymer in the transgenic fibres differs from the control; in particular a significant decrease in the number of hydrogen bonds was detected.
All analysed products from generated transgenic plants were enriched with antioxidant compounds derived from phenylopropanoid pathway Thus the products provide valuable source of flavonoids, phenolic acids and lignan for biomedical application. The compounds composition and quantity from transgenic plants was confirmed by IR spectroscopy. Thus the infrared spectroscopy appeared to be suitable method for characterization of flax products.
PMCID: PMC3040132  PMID: 21276227
22.  Gene expression profiling in susceptible interaction of grapevine with its fungal pathogen Eutypa lata: Extending MapMan ontology for grapevine 
BMC Plant Biology  2009;9:104.
Whole genome transcriptomics analysis is a very powerful approach because it gives an overview of the activity of genes in certain cells or tissue types. However, biological interpretation of such results can be rather tedious. MapMan is a software tool that displays large datasets (e.g. gene expression data) onto diagrams of metabolic pathways or other processes and thus enables easier interpretation of results. The grapevine (Vitis vinifera) genome sequence has recently become available bringing a new dimension into associated research. Two microarray platforms were designed based on the TIGR Gene Index database and used in several physiological studies.
To enable easy and effective visualization of those and further experiments, annotation of Vitis vinifera Gene Index (VvGI version 5) to MapMan ontology was set up. Due to specificities of grape physiology, we have created new pictorial representations focusing on three selected pathways: carotenoid pathway, terpenoid pathway and phenylpropanoid pathway, the products of these pathways being important for wine aroma, flavour and colour, as well as plant defence against pathogens. This new tool was validated on Affymetrix microarrays data obtained during berry ripening and it allowed the discovery of new aspects in process regulation. We here also present results on transcriptional profiling of grape plantlets after exposal to the fungal pathogen Eutypa lata using Operon microarrays including visualization of results with MapMan. The data show that the genes induced in infected plants, encode pathogenesis related proteins and enzymes of the flavonoid metabolism, which are well known as being responsive to fungal infection.
The extension of MapMan ontology to grapevine together with the newly constructed pictorial representations for carotenoid, terpenoid and phenylpropanoid metabolism provide an alternative approach to the analysis of grapevine gene expression experiments performed with Affymetrix or Operon microarrays. MapMan was first validated on an already published dataset and later used to obtain an overview of transcriptional changes in a susceptible grapevine – Eutypa lata interaction at the time of symptoms development, where we showed that the responsive genes belong to families known to be involved in the plant defence towards fungal infection (PR-proteins, enzymes of the phenylpropanoid pathway).
PMCID: PMC2731041  PMID: 19656401
23.  Biosynthesis of the active compounds of Isatis indigotica based on transcriptome sequencing and metabolites profiling 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:857.
Isatis indigotica is a widely used herb for the clinical treatment of colds, fever, and influenza in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Various structural classes of compounds have been identified as effective ingredients. However, little is known at genetics level about these active metabolites. In the present study, we performed de novo transcriptome sequencing for the first time to produce a comprehensive dataset of I. indigotica.
A database of 36,367 unigenes (average length = 1,115.67 bases) was generated by performing transcriptome sequencing. Based on the gene annotation of the transcriptome, 104 unigenes were identified covering most of the catalytic steps in the general biosynthetic pathways of indole, terpenoid, and phenylpropanoid. Subsequently, the organ-specific expression patterns of the genes involved in these pathways, and their responses to methyl jasmonate (MeJA) induction, were investigated. Metabolites profile of effective phenylpropanoid showed accumulation pattern of secondary metabolites were mostly correlated with the transcription of their biosynthetic genes. According to the analysis of UDP-dependent glycosyltransferases (UGT) family, several flavonoids were indicated to exist in I. indigotica and further identified by metabolic profile using UPLC/Q-TOF. Moreover, applying transcriptome co-expression analysis, nine new, putative UGTs were suggested as flavonol glycosyltransferases and lignan glycosyltransferases.
This database provides a pool of candidate genes involved in biosynthesis of effective metabolites in I. indigotica. Furthermore, the comprehensive analysis and characterization of the significant pathways are expected to give a better insight regarding the diversity of chemical composition, synthetic characteristics, and the regulatory mechanism which operate in this medical herb.
PMCID: PMC3890716  PMID: 24308360
Isatis indigotica; Transcriptome sequencing; Biosynthetic pathways; Metabolite profile; Co-expression analysis
24.  A peroxisomally localized acyl-activating enzyme is required for volatile benzenoid formation in a Petunia×hybrida cv. ‘Mitchell Diploid’ flower 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2012;63(13):4821-4833.
Floral volatile benzenoid/phenylpropanoid (FVBP) biosynthesis is a complex and coordinate cellular process executed by petal limb cells of a Petunia×hybrida cv. ‘Mitchell Diploid’ (MD) plant. In MD flowers, the majority of benzenoid volatile compounds are derived from a core phenylpropanoid pathway intermediate by a coenzyme A (CoA) dependent, β-oxidative scheme. Metabolic flux analysis, reverse genetics, and biochemical characterizations of key enzymes in this pathway have supported this putative concept. However, the theoretical first enzymatic reaction, which leads to the production of cinnamoyl-CoA, has only been physically demonstrated in a select number of bacteria like Streptomyces maritimus through mutagenesis and recombinant protein production. A transcript hasbeen cloned and characterized from MD flowers that shares high homology with an Arabidopsis thaliana transcript ACYL-ACTIVATING ENZYME11 (AtAAE11) and the S. maritimus ACYL-COA:LIGASE (SmEncH). In MD, the PhAAE transcript accumulates in a very similar manner as bona fide FVBP network genes, i.e. high levels in an open flower petal and ethylene regulated. In planta, PhAAE is localized to the peroxisome. Upon reduction of PhAAE transcript through a stable RNAi approach, transgenic flowers emitted a reduced level of all benzenoid volatile compounds. Together, the data suggest that PhAAE may be responsible for the activation of t-cinnamic acid, which would be required for floral volatile benzenoid production in MD.
PMCID: PMC3428004  PMID: 22771854
AAE; benzenoid; flower; petunia; t-cinnamic acid; volatiles
25.  In silico comparison of genomic regions containing genes coding for enzymes and transcription factors for the phenylpropanoid pathway in Phaseolus vulgaris L. and Glycine max L. Merr 
Legumes contain a variety of phytochemicals derived from the phenylpropanoid pathway that have important effects on human health as well as seed coat color, plant disease resistance and nodulation. However, the information about the genes involved in this important pathway is fragmentary in common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). The objectives of this research were to isolate genes that function in and control the phenylpropanoid pathway in common bean, determine their genomic locations in silico in common bean and soybean, and analyze sequences of the 4CL gene family in two common bean genotypes. Sequences of phenylpropanoid pathway genes available for common bean or other plant species were aligned, and the conserved regions were used to design sequence-specific primers. The PCR products were cloned and sequenced and the gene sequences along with common bean gene-based (g) markers were BLASTed against the Glycine max v.1.0 genome and the P. vulgaris v.1.0 (Andean) early release genome. In addition, gene sequences were BLASTed against the OAC Rex (Mesoamerican) genome sequence assembly. In total, fragments of 46 structural and regulatory phenylpropanoid pathway genes were characterized in this way and placed in silico on common bean and soybean sequence maps. The maps contain over 250 common bean g and SSR (simple sequence repeat) markers and identify the positions of more than 60 additional phenylpropanoid pathway gene sequences, plus the putative locations of seed coat color genes. The majority of cloned phenylpropanoid pathway gene sequences were mapped to one location in the common bean genome but had two positions in soybean. The comparison of the genomic maps confirmed previous studies, which show that common bean and soybean share genomic regions, including those containing phenylpropanoid pathway gene sequences, with conserved synteny. Indels identified in the comparison of Andean and Mesoamerican common bean 4CL gene sequences might be used to develop inter-pool phenylpropanoid pathway gene-based markers. We anticipate that the information obtained by this study will simplify and accelerate selections of common bean with specific phenylpropanoid pathway alleles to increase the contents of beneficial phenylpropanoids in common bean and other legumes.
PMCID: PMC3763686  PMID: 24046770
common bean; soybean; phenylpropanoid pathway; genome sequence; in silico map; comparative mapping

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