Functional characterization of two new members of the caffeoyl CoA O-methyltransferase-like gene family from Vanilla planifolia reveals a new class of plastid-localized O-methyltransferases
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Caffeoyl CoA O-methyltransferases (OMTs) have been characterized from numerous plant species and have been demonstrated to be involved in lignin biosynthesis. Higher plant species are known to have additional caffeoyl CoA OMT-like genes, which have not been well characterized. Here, we identified two new caffeoyl CoA OMT-like genes by screening a cDNA library from specialized hair cells of pods of the orchid Vanilla planifolia. Characterization of the corresponding two enzymes, designated Vp-OMT4 and Vp-OMT5, revealed that in vitro both enzymes preferred as a substrate the flavone tricetin, yet their sequences and phylogenetic relationships to other enzymes are distinct from each other. Quantitative analysis of gene expression indicated a dramatic tissue-specific expression pattern for Vp-OMT4, which was highly expressed in the hair cells of the developing pod, the likely location of vanillin biosynthesis. Although Vp-OMT4 had a lower activity with the proposed vanillin precursor, 3,4-dihydroxybenzaldehyde, than with tricetin, the tissue specificity of expression suggests it may be a candidate for an enzyme involved in vanillin biosynthesis. In contrast, the Vp-OMT5 gene was mainly expressed in leaf tissue and only marginally expressed in pod hair cells. Phylogenetic analysis suggests Vp-OMT5 evolved from a cyanobacterial enzyme and it clustered within a clade in which the sequences from eukaryotic species had predicted chloroplast transit peptides. Transient expression of a GFP-fusion in tobacco demonstrated that Vp-OMT5 was localized in the plastids. This is the first flavonoid OMT demonstrated to be targeted to the plastids.
KeywordsVanilla planifolia Flavone O-methyltransferase (OMT) Plastid localization Vanillin
We thank Dr. Richard A. Dixon for supplying some of the OMT substrates. We acknowledge NIH grant S10RR025424 to Nilgun Tumer for a confocal microscope.
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