Characterization of two genes for the biosynthesis of the labdane diterpene Z-abienol in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) glandular trichomes

Authored by  Christophe Sallaud*, Cécile Giacalone*, Romy Töpfer, S Goepfert, N Bakaher, Sandrine Rösti, Alain Tissier*

Published in The Plant Journal    
* This author is not affiliated with PMI.

Leaves of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) are covered with glandular trichomes that produce sucrose esters and diterpenoids in varying quantities, depending on cultivar type. The bicyclic diterpene Z‐abienol is the major labdanoid present in some oriental tobacco cultivars, where it constitutes a precursor of important flavours and aromas. We describe here the identification and characterization of two genes governing the biosynthesis of Z‐abienol in N. tabacum. As for other angiosperm labdanoid diterpenes, the biosynthesis of Z‐abienol proceeds in two steps. NtCPS2 encodes a class‐II terpene synthase that synthesizes 8‐hydroxy‐copalyl diphosphate, and NtABS encodes a kaurene synthase‐like (KSL) protein that uses 8‐hydroxy‐copalyl diphosphate to produce Z‐abienol. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that NtABS belongs to a distinct clade of KSL proteins that comprises the recently identified tomato (Solanum habrochaites) santalene and bergamotene synthase. RT‐PCR results show that both genes are preferentially expressed in trichomes. Moreover, microscopy of NtCPS2 promoter‐GUS fusion transgenics demonstrated a high specificity of expression to trichome glandular cells. Ectopic expression of both genes, but not of either one alone, driven by a trichome‐specific promoter in transgenic Nicotiana sylvestrisconferred Z‐abienol formation to this species, which does not normally produce it. Furthermore, sequence analysis of over 100 tobacco cultivars revealed polymorphisms in NtCPS2 that lead to a prematurely truncated protein in cultivars lacking Z‐abienol, thus establishing NtCPS2 as a major gene controlling Z‐abienol biosynthesis in tobacco. These results offer new perspectives for tobacco breeding and the metabolic engineering of labdanoid diterpenes, as well as for structure–function relationship studies of terpene synthases.