Antisense-mediated down-regulation of putrescine N-methyltransferase activity in transgenic Nicotiana tabacum L. can lead to elevated levels of anatabine at the expense of nicotine
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- Chintapakorn, Y. & Hamill, J.D. Plant Mol Biol (2003) 53: 87. doi:10.1023/B:PLAN.0000009268.45851.95
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Nicotiana tabacum L. produces a number of pyridine alkaloids, with nicotine representing the major component and anatabine comprising most of the remainder of the alkaloid fraction. An antisense approach was used here to down-regulate activity of the important enzyme putrescine N-methyltransferase (PMT) in transformed roots of this species to determine effects upon alkaloid metabolism. Transformed root lines were produced that contained markedly reduced PMT activity, with a concomitant reduction in nicotine content compared to controls. No negative effects upon growth were observed. Several antisense-PMT transformed root lines, and also leaf tissues of regenerated transformed plants, showed a substantial increase in anatabine content relative to controls. Northern hybridization experiments indicated that the antisense-PMT manipulation had little or no effect upon the transcript levels of other genes encoding enzymes involved in alkaloid metabolism, including quinolinate acid phosphoribosyltransferase (QPT). The latter enzyme plays a key role in regulating the synthesis of nicotinic acid which supplies the pyridine ring necessary for both nicotine and anatabine synthesis. We suggest that elevated anatabine levels in antisense-PMT lines are a direct consequence of a relative oversupply of nicotinic acid which, in the absence of adequate levels of 1-methyl-Δ1-pyrrolinium cation (the ultimate product of PMT activity), is used to synthesise anatabine directly. As is discussed, no naturally occurring species or varieties of Nicotiana are known that typically produce high levels of anatabine in root or leaf tissues, meaning that the antisense PMT transgenics produced in this study have no natural counterpart. These experiments thus represent an example of metabolic engineering of plant pyridine metabolism, via antisense down-regulation of gene expression in a contributing pathway leading to secondary metabolite biosynthesis.