, Volume 223, Issue 6, pp 1191-1200
Date: 02 Dec 2005

Epidermis is a pivotal site of at least four secondary metabolic pathways in Catharanthus roseus aerial organs

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Catharanthus roseus produces a wide range of secondary metabolites, some of which present high therapeutic values such as antitumoral monoterpenoid indole alkaloids (MIAs), vinblastine and vincristine, and the hypotensive MIA, ajmalicine. We have recently shown that a complex multicellular organisation of the MIA biosynthetic pathway occurred in C. roseus aerial organs. In particular, the final steps of both the secoiridoid–monoterpene and indole pathways specifically occurred in the epidermis of leaves and petals. Chorismate is the common precursor of indole and phenylpropanoid pathways. In an attempt to better map the spatio-temporal organisation of diverse secondary metabolisms in Catharanthus roseus aerial organs, we studied the expression pattern of genes encoding enzymes of the phenylpropanoid pathway (phenylalanine ammonia-lyase [PAL, E.C.], cinnamate 4-hydroxylase [C4H, E.C.] and chalcone synthase [CHS, E.C.]). In situ hybridisation experiments revealed that CrPAL and CrC4H were specifically localised to lignifying xylem, whereas CrPAL, CrC4H and CrCHS were specifically expressed in the flavonoid-rich upper epidermis. Interestingly, these three genes were co-expressed in the epidermis (at least the upper, adaxial one) together with three MIA-related genes, indicating that single epidermis cells were capable of concomitantly producing a wide range of diverse secondary metabolites (e.g. flavonoïds, indoles, secoiridoid–monoterpenes and MIAs). These results, and data showing co-accumulation of flavonoids and alkaloids in single cells of C. roseus cell lines, indicated the spatio-temporal feasibility of putative common regulation mechanisms for the expression of these genes involved in at least four distinct secondary metabolisms.