Biochemical and Functional Characterization of Induced Terpene Formation in Arabidopsis Roots

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Virginia Tech

Plants have evolved a variety of constitutive and induced chemical defense mechanisms against biotic stress. Emission of volatile compounds from plants facilitates interactions with both beneficial and pathogenic organisms. However, knowledge of the chemical defense in roots is still limited. In this study, we have examined the root-specific biosynthesis and function of volatile terpenes in the model plant Arabidopsis. When infected with the root rot pathogen Pythium irregulare, Arabidopsis roots release the acyclic C11-homoterpene (E)-4,8-dimethylnona-1,3,7-triene (DMNT), which is a common constituent of volatile blends emitted from insect-damaged foliage. We have identified a single cytochrome P450 monooxygenase of the CYP705 family that catalyzes a root-specific oxidative degradation of the C30-triterpene precursor arabidiol thereby causing the release of DMNT and a C19-degradation product named arabidonol. We found that DMNT shows inhibitory effects on P. irregulare mycelium growth and oospore germination in vitro, and that DMNT biosynthetic mutant plants were more susceptible to P. irregulare infection. We provide evidence based on genome synteny and phylogenetic analysis that the arabidiol biosynthetic gene cluster containing the arabidiol synthase (ABDS) and CYP705A1 genes possibly emerged via local gene duplication followed by de novo neofunctionalization. Together, our studies demonstrate differences and plasticity in the metabolic organization and function of terpenes in roots in comparison to aboveground plant tissues.

Additionally, we demonstrated that the arabidiol cleavage product, arabidonol, is further modified by yet unknown enzymatic reactions into three products, which are found in root exudates. We suggested a pathway for their biosynthesis based on precursor feeding experiments and NMR analysis. Although DMNT biosynthetic genes are clustered on chromosome 4 along with several potential modification genes, we did not find a possible role of these genes in the derivatization of arabidonol. Preliminary experimental results using genetic and biochemical approaches for identifying genes involved in the modification steps are also presented.

In summary, this study demonstrates an alternative route for volatile terpene formation belowground different from aboveground plant tissues via triterpene degradation and provides evidence for an unexplored triterpene catabolism pathway in Arabidopsis.

Cytochrome P450, plant volatiles, specialized metabolism, root chemical defense, Arabidopsis