Anatabine, although being one of four major tobacco alkaloids, is never accumulated in high quantity in any of the naturally occurring species from the Nicotiana genus. Previous studies therefore focused on transgenic approaches to synthetize anatabine, most notably by generating transgenic lines with suppressed putrescine methyltransferase (PMT) activity. This led to promising results, but the global gene expression of plants with such distinct metabolism has not been analyzed. In the current study, we describe how these plants respond to topping and the downstream effects on alkaloid biosynthesis.
The surge in anatabine accumulation in PMT transgenic lines after topping treatment and its effects on gene expression changes were analyzed. The results revealed increases in expression of isoflavone reductase-like (A622) and berberine bridge-like enzymes (BBLs) oxidoreductase genes, previously shown to be crucial for the final steps of nicotine biosynthesis. We also observed significantly higher methylputrescine oxidase (MPO) expression in all plants subjected to topping treatment. In order to investigate if MPO suppression would have the same effects as that of PMT, we generated transgenic plants. These plants with suppressed MPO expression showed an almost complete drop in leaf nicotine content, whereas leaf anatabine was observed to increase by a factor of ~ 1.6X.
Our results are the first concrete evidence that suppression of MPO leads to decreased nicotine in favor of anatabine in tobacco roots and that this anatabine is successfully transported to tobacco leaves. Alkaloid transport in plants remains to be investigated to higher detail due to high variation of its efficiency among Nicotiana species and varieties of tobacco. Our research adds important step to better understand pyrrolidine ring biosynthesis and its effects on gene expression and subsequent accumulation of anatabine.