Molecular Genetics and Subcellular Localization of Flavonoid Metabolism in Arabidopsis
There are at least two models describing how the enzymes of metabolic pathways are arranged in living cells. The first is a stochastic model, where enzymes are freely-diffusing in the aqueous environment of the cell, and the second, the metabolon model, has pathway enzymes organized as enzyme complexes. Both are valid scientific hypotheses in that they make predictions that can be tested regarding pathway regulation, localization, and function. The goal of the work presented here was to test the metabolon model using the flavonoid biosynthetic pathway in Arabidopsis, which has been hypothesized to exist as a metabolic enzyme complex.
Five novel mutants of the gene encoding the first enzyme of flavonoid biosynthesis, chalcone synthase (CHS), were characterized in an effort to develop tools for investigating the organization of flavonoid metabolism in Arabidopsis. A variety of mutant CHS genotypes were identified in this allelic series, including ones that displayed both null and temperature-sensitive phenotypes, based on endproduct analysis. Characterization of protein and RNA levels indicated that the stability of the CHS enzyme was reduced in some of the mutants as compared to wild type. In several of the alleles, homodimerization of CHS was also impaired. Effects of the mutations at the amino acid level were predicted from the three-dimensional crystal structure of the highly-homologous alfalfa CHS, which indicated substitutions at diverse sites on the enzyme, including ones that may disrupt folding and/or active site function. This allelic series should provide a useful genetic resource for ongoing studies of flavonoid enzyme structure, function, and subcellular organization.
In an effort to determine the in planta location of the first two enzymes in flavonoid biosynthesis, CHS and chalcone isomerase (CHI), immunolocalization experiments were performed. Results indicate that CHS and CHI are abundant in epidermal and cortex cells of the root elongation zone and the root tip, consistent with the accumulation of flavonoid endproducts at these sites. At the subcellular level, both of these enzymes were found to localize to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), consistent with the hypothesis that the enzymes of flavonoid biosynthesis are organized as a membrane-associated enzyme complex. Analysis of the tt7(88) mutant, which lacks the cytosolic domain of the putative 'anchor' P450 enzyme, flavonoid 3'-hydroxylase, showed an altered distribution of CHS and CHI as compared to wild type, however CHS and CHI were still found to be associated with ER. These results suggest that complex interactions occur within the flavonoid enzyme complex to mediate the subcellular distribution of its constituents. Also evident from these studies was the asymmetric distribution of CHS and CHI in cortex cells of the elongation zone, a finding that may provide clues about the physiological function of flavonoids in roots. Together, these immunolocalization data support the metabolon model for the organization of flavonoid biosynthesis in Arabidopsis.
In an effort to develop tools to investigate the in vivo dynamics of flavonoid biosynthesis, fusion proteins between CHS or CHI and the reporter, green fluorescent protein (GFP), were produced. Transient transfection assays in epidermal cells from onion root bulbs and Arabidopsis seedlings indicated that the GFP component of the fusion constructs was functional, as determined via GFP fluorescence. To investigate the spatial and temporal dynamics of these fusion proteins in all cell types, Arabidopsis plants stably transformed with the CHI-GFP fusion constructs were generated. The analysis of these transgenic plants should provide information regarding the localization and dynamics of flavonoid biosynthesis in vivo, and thereby serve to offer new insights into the function and regulation of this important plant metabolic pathway. Overall, the research presented here represents a significant contribution toward understanding how subcellular organization may be important in regulating metabolism.