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1.  Glycosylation Is a Major Regulator of Phenylpropanoid Availability and Biological Activity in Plants 
The phenylpropanoid pathway in plants is responsible for the biosynthesis of a huge amount of secondary metabolites derived from phenylalanine and tyrosine. Both flavonoids and lignins are synthesized at the end of this very diverse metabolic pathway, as well as many intermediate molecules whose precise biological functions remain largely unknown. The diversity of these molecules can be further increased under the action of UDP-glycosyltransferases (UGTs) leading to the production of glycosylated hydroxycinnamates and related aldehydes, alcohols and esters. Glycosylation can change phenylpropanoid solubility, stability and toxic potential, as well as influencing compartmentalization and biological activity. (De)-glycosylation therefore represents an extremely important regulation point in phenylpropanoid homeostasis. In this article we review recent knowledge on the enzymes involved in regulating phenylpropanoid glycosylation status and availability in different subcellular compartments. We also examine the potential link between monolignol glycosylation and lignification by exploring co-expression of lignin biosynthesis genes and phenolic (de)glycosylation genes. Of the different biological roles linked with their particular chemical properties, phenylpropanoids are often correlated with the plant's stress management strategies that are also regulated by glycosylation. UGTs can for instance influence the resistance of plants during infection by microorganisms and be involved in the mechanisms related to environmental changes. The impact of flavonoid glycosylation on the color of flowers, leaves, seeds and fruits will also be discussed. Altogether this paper underlies the fact that glycosylation and deglycosylation are powerful mechanisms allowing plants to regulate phenylpropanoid localisation, availability and biological activity.
PMCID: PMC4880792  PMID: 27303427
phenylpropanoids; glycosylation; UDP-glycosyltransferase; beta-glucosidase; lignin; flavonoids; compartmentalization
2.  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
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.  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.
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.  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.
8.  Multi-level engineering facilitates the production of phenylpropanoid compounds in tomato 
Nature Communications  2015;6:8635.
Phenylpropanoids comprise an important class of plant secondary metabolites. A number of transcription factors have been used to upregulate-specific branches of phenylpropanoid metabolism, but by far the most effective has been the fruit-specific expression of AtMYB12 in tomato, which resulted in as much as 10% of fruit dry weight accumulating as flavonols and hydroxycinnamates. We show that AtMYB12 not only increases the demand of flavonoid biosynthesis but also increases the supply of carbon from primary metabolism, energy and reducing power, which may fuel the shikimate and phenylalanine biosynthetic pathways to supply more aromatic amino acids for secondary metabolism. AtMYB12 directly binds promoters of genes encoding enzymes of primary metabolism. The enhanced supply of precursors, energy and reducing power achieved by AtMYB12 expression can be harnessed to engineer high levels of novel phenylpropanoids in tomato fruit, offering an effective production system for bioactives and other high value ingredients.
Metabolic engineering offers an effective strategy for producing valuable bioactive compounds in plants. Here, the authors show that by harnessing transcriptional regulation of carbon flux, tomato fruit metabolism can be optimized for the production of phenylpropanoids.
PMCID: PMC4639801  PMID: 26497596
9.  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
10.  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
11.  Revealing insect herbivory-induced phenolamide metabolism: from single genes to metabolic network plasticity analysis 
The phenylpropanoid metabolic space comprises a network of interconnected metabolic branches that contribute to the biosynthesis of a large array of compounds with functions in plant development and stress adaptation. During biotic challenges, such as insect attack, a major rewiring of gene networks associated with phenylpropanoid metabolism is observed. This rapid reconfiguration of gene expression allows for the prioritized production of metabolites that help the plant solve ecological problems. Phenolamides are a group of phenolic-derivatives that originate from the diversion of hydroxycinnamoyl acids from the main phenylpropanoid pathway after N-acyltransferase-dependent conjugation to polyamines or aryl-monoamines. These structurally diverse metabolites are abundant in reproductive organs of many plants and have recently been shown to play roles as induced defenses in vegetative tissues. In the wild tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata in which the herbivory-induced regulation of these metabolites has been studied, rapid elevations of phenolamide levels that function as induced defenses result from a multi-hormonal signaling network that reshapes connected metabolic pathways. In this review, we summarize recent findings in the regulation of phenolamides obtained by mass spectrometry-based metabolomics and outline a conceptual framework for gene discovery in this pathway. We finally introduce a multifactorial approach useful in deciphering metabolic pathway reorganizations among different tissues in response to stress.
PMCID: PMC5140026  PMID: 24617849
Phenolamides; Phenylpropanoid pathway; N-acyltransferase; Metabolomics; Systems biology; Self-organizing maps; Nicotiana attenuata
12.  Characterization of a Citrus R2R3-MYB Transcription Factor that Regulates the Flavonol and Hydroxycinnamic Acid Biosynthesis 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:25352.
Flavonols and hydroxycinnamic acids are important phenylpropanoid metabolites in plants. In this study, we isolated and characterized a citrus R2R3-MYB transcription factor CsMYBF1, encoding a protein belonging to the flavonol-specific MYB subgroup. Ectopic expression of CsMYBF1 in tomato led to an up-regulation of a series of genes involved in primary metabolism and the phenylpropanoid pathway, and induced a strong accumulation of hydroxycinnamic acid compounds but not the flavonols. The RNAi suppression of CsMYBF1 in citrus callus caused a down-regulation of many phenylpropanoid pathway genes and reduced the contents of hydroxycinnamic acids and flavonols. Transactivation assays indicated that CsMYBF1 activated several promoters of phenylpropanoid pathway genes in tomato and citrus. Interestingly, CsMYBF1 could activate the CHS gene promoter in citrus, but not in tomato. Further examinations revealed that the MYBPLANT cis-elements were essential for CsMYBF1 in activating phenylpropanoid pathway genes. In summary, our data indicated that CsMYBF1 possessed the function in controlling the flavonol and hydroxycinnamic acid biosynthesis, and the regulatory differences in the target metabolite accumulation between two species may be due to the differential activation of CHS promoters by CsMYBF1. Therefore, CsMYBF1 constitutes an important gene source for the engineering of specific phenylpropanoid components.
PMCID: PMC4861916  PMID: 27162196
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.  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
15.  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.
16.  Gene-to-metabolite network for biosynthesis of lignans in MeJA-elicited Isatis indigotica hairy root cultures 
Root and leaf tissue of Isatis indigotica shows notable anti-viral efficacy, and are widely used as “Banlangen” and “Daqingye” in traditional Chinese medicine. The plants' pharmacological activity is attributed to phenylpropanoids, especially a group of lignan metabolites. However, the biosynthesis of lignans in I. indigotica remains opaque. This study describes the discovery and analysis of biosynthetic genes and AP2/ERF-type transcription factors involved in lignan biosynthesis in I. indigotica. MeJA treatment revealed differential expression of three genes involved in phenylpropanoid backbone biosynthesis (IiPAL, IiC4H, Ii4CL), five genes involved in lignan biosynthesis (IiCAD, IiC3H, IiCCR, IiDIR, and IiPLR), and 112 putative AP2/ERF transcription factors. In addition, four intermediates of lariciresinol biosynthesis were found to be induced. Based on these results, a canonical correlation analysis using Pearson's correlation coefficient was performed to construct gene-to-metabolite networks and identify putative key genes and rate-limiting reactions in lignan biosynthesis. Over-expression of IiC3H, identified as a key pathway gene, was used for metabolic engineering of I. indigotica hairy roots, and resulted in an increase in lariciresinol production. These findings illustrate the utility of canonical correlation analysis for the discovery and metabolic engineering of key metabolic genes in plants.
PMCID: PMC4630570  PMID: 26579184
Isatis indigotica; AP2/ERF; biosynthesis of lignans; gene-metabolic network; metabolic engineering
17.  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
18.  Metabolic transition in mycorrhizal tomato roots 
Beneficial plant–microorganism interactions are widespread in nature. Among them, the symbiosis between plant roots and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) is of major importance, commonly improving host nutrition and tolerance against environmental and biotic challenges. Metabolic changes were observed in a well-established symbiosis between tomato and two common AMF: Rhizophagus irregularis and Funneliformis mosseae. Principal component analysis of metabolites, determined by non-targeted liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, showed a strong metabolic rearrangement in mycorrhizal roots. There was generally a negative impact of mycorrhizal symbiosis on amino acid content, mainly on those involved in the biosynthesis of phenylpropanoids. On the other hand, many intermediaries in amino acid and sugar metabolism and the oxylipin pathway were among the compounds accumulating more in mycorrhizal roots. The metabolic reprogramming also affected other pathways in the secondary metabolism, mainly phenyl alcohols (lignins and lignans) and vitamins. The results showed that source metabolites of these pathways decreased in mycorrhizal roots, whilst the products derived from α-linolenic and amino acids presented higher concentrations in AMF-colonized roots. Mycorrhization therefore increased the flux into those pathways. Venn-diagram analysis showed that there are many induced signals shared by both mycorrhizal interactions, pointing to general mycorrhiza-associated changes in the tomato metabolome. Moreover, fungus-specific fingerprints were also found, suggesting that specific molecular alterations may underlie the reported functional diversity of the symbiosis. Since most positively regulated pathways were related to stress response mechanisms, their potential contribution to improved host stress tolerance is discussed.
PMCID: PMC4477175  PMID: 26157423
arbuscular mycorrhiza; metabolomics; Funneliformis mosseae; Rhizophagus irregularis; oxylipins
19.  Characterisation of the willow phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) gene family reveals expression differences compared with poplar 
Phytochemistry  2015;117:90-97.
Graphical abstract
The willow PAL family consists of 5 genes encoding 4 isozymes that have higher kinetic activity, and a wider gene expression pattern, than that found for the closely related poplar PAL family.
•Five Salix viminalis (willow) phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) genes were identified and functionally characterized.•Willow PALs show similar sub-cellular localisation to the poplar genes.•Willow PALs show difference in enzyme kinetics and gene expression to the poplar genes.
Willow is an important biomass crop for the bioenergy industry, and therefore optimal growth with minimal effects of biotic and abiotic stress is essential. The phenylpropanoid pathway is responsible for the biosynthesis of not only lignin but also of flavonoids, condensed tannins, benzenoids and phenolic glycosides which all have a role in protecting the plant against biotic and abiotic stress. All products of the phenylpropanoid pathway are important for the healthy growth of short rotation cropping species such as willow. However, the phenylpropanoid pathway in willow remains largely uncharacterised. In the current study we identified and characterised five willow phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) genes, which encode enzymes that catalyse the deamination of l-phenylalanine to form trans-cinnamic acid, the entry point into the phenylpropanoid pathway. Willow PAL1, PAL2, PAL3 and PAL4 genes were orthologous to the poplar genes. However no orthologue of PAL5 appears to be present in willow. Moreover, two tandemly repeated PAL2 orthologues were identified in a single contig. Willow PALs show similar sub-cellular localisation to the poplar genes. However, the enzyme kinetics and gene expression of the willow PAL genes differed slightly, with willow PAL2 being more widely expressed than its poplar orthologues implying a wider role for PALs in the production of flavonoids, condensed tannins, benzenoids, and phenolic glycosides, in willow.
PMCID: PMC4560161  PMID: 26070140
4CL, 4-coumarate-CoA ligase; C4H, trans-cinnamate 4 monooxygenase; KFB, Kelch repeat F-box; PAL, phenylalanine ammonia-lyase; SNP, single-nucleotide polymorphism; YFP, yellow fluorescent protein; l-Phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL); Salix viminalis (willow); Subcellular localisation; Enzyme kinetics; Gene expression; Phenylpropanoid metabolism; Gene family
20.  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
21.  Transcriptome Analysis Reveals that Red and Blue Light Regulate Growth and Phytohormone Metabolism in Norway Spruce [Picea abies (L.) Karst.] 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0127896.
The mechanisms by which different light spectra regulate plant shoot elongation vary, and phytohormones respond differently to such spectrum-associated regulatory effects. Light supplementation can effectively control seedling growth in Norway spruce. However, knowledge of the effective spectrum for promoting growth and phytohormone metabolism in this species is lacking. In this study, 3-year-old Norway spruce clones were illuminated for 12 h after sunset under blue or red light-emitting diode (LED) light for 90 d, and stem increments and other growth traits were determined. Endogenous hormone levels and transcriptome differences in the current needles were assessed to identify genes related to the red and blue light regulatory responses. The results showed that the stem increment and gibberellin (GA) levels of the seedlings illuminated by red light were 8.6% and 29.0% higher, respectively, than those of the seedlings illuminated by blue light. The indoleacetic acid (IAA) level of the seedlings illuminated by red light was 54.6% lower than that of the seedlings illuminated by blue light, and there were no significant differences in abscisic acid (ABA) or zeatin riboside [ZR] between the two groups of seedlings. The transcriptome results revealed 58,736,166 and 60,555,192 clean reads for the blue-light- and red-light-illuminated samples, respectively. Illumina sequencing revealed 21,923 unigenes, and 2744 (approximately 93.8%) out of 2926 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were found to be upregulated under blue light. The main KEGG classifications of the DEGs were metabolic pathway (29%), biosynthesis of secondary metabolites (20.49%) and hormone signal transduction (8.39%). With regard to hormone signal transduction, AUXIN-RESISTANT1 (AUX1), AUX/IAA genes, auxin-inducible genes, and early auxin-responsive genes [(auxin response factor (ARF) and small auxin-up RNA (SAUR)] were all upregulated under blue light compared with red light, which might have yielded the higher IAA level. DELLA and phytochrome-interacting factor 3 (PIF3), involved in negative GA signaling, were also upregulated under blue light, which may be related to the lower GA level. Light quality also affects endogenous hormones by influencing secondary metabolism. Blue light promoted phenylpropanoid biosynthesis, phenylalanine metabolism, flavonoid biosynthesis and flavone and flavonol biosynthesis, accompanied by upregulation of most of the genes in their pathways. In conclusion, red light may promote stem growth by regulating biosynthesis of GAs, and blue light may promote flavonoid, lignin, phenylpropanoid and some hormones (such as jasmonic acid) which were related to plant defense in Norway spruce, which might reduce the primary metabolites available for plant growth.
PMCID: PMC4523189  PMID: 26237749
22.  Effects of PHENYLALANINE AMMONIA LYASE (PAL) knockdown on cell wall composition, biomass digestibility, and biotic and abiotic stress responses in Brachypodium  
Journal of Experimental Botany  2015;66(14):4317-4335.
Reducing the function of PAL, the first enzyme in the phenylpropanoid pathway, in Brachypodium distachyon alters cell wall composition, increases fungal susceptibility, but minimally affects caterpillar herbivory and abiotic stress tolerance.
The phenylpropanoid pathway in plants synthesizes a variety of structural and defence compounds, and is an important target in efforts to reduce cell wall lignin for improved biomass conversion to biofuels. Little is known concerning the trade-offs in grasses when perturbing the function of the first gene family in the pathway, PHENYLALANINE AMMONIA LYASE (PAL). Therefore, PAL isoforms in the model grass Brachypodium distachyon were targeted, by RNA interference (RNAi), and large reductions (up to 85%) in stem tissue transcript abundance for two of the eight putative BdPAL genes were identified. The cell walls of stems of BdPAL-knockdown plants had reductions of 43% in lignin and 57% in cell wall-bound ferulate, and a nearly 2-fold increase in the amounts of polysaccharide-derived carbohydrates released by thermochemical and hydrolytic enzymic partial digestion. PAL-knockdown plants exhibited delayed development and reduced root growth, along with increased susceptibilities to the fungal pathogens Fusarium culmorum and Magnaporthe oryzae. Surprisingly, these plants generally had wild-type (WT) resistances to caterpillar herbivory, drought, and ultraviolet light. RNA sequencing analyses revealed that the expression of genes associated with stress responses including ethylene biosynthesis and signalling were significantly altered in PAL knocked-down plants under non-challenging conditions. These data reveal that, although an attenuation of the phenylpropanoid pathway increases carbohydrate availability for biofuel, it can adversely affect plant growth and disease resistance to fungal pathogens. The data identify notable differences between the stress responses of these monocot pal mutants versus Arabidopsis (a dicot) pal mutants and provide insights into the challenges that may arise when deploying phenylpropanoid pathway-altered bioenergy crops.
PMCID: PMC4493789  PMID: 26093023
Bioenergy; ferulic acid; Fusarium; grass; herbivory; lignin; phenylpropanoid; saccharification; tyrosine ammonia lyase; ultraviolet light.
23.  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
24.  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
25.  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

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