JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Manipulation of thiol contents in plants

R Höfgen, O Kreft, L Willmitzer, H Hesse
Amino Acids 2001, 20 (3): 291-9
11354605
As sulfur constitutes one of the macronutrients necessary for the plant life cycle, sulfur uptake and assimilation in higher plants is one of the crucial factors determining plant growth and vigour, crop yield and even resistance to pests and stresses. Inorganic sulfate is mostly taken up as sulfate from the soil through the root system or to a lesser extent as volatile sulfur compounds from the air. In a cascade of enzymatic steps inorganic sulfur is converted to the nutritionally important sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine (Hell, 1997; Hell and Rennenberg, 1998; Saito, 1999). Sulfate uptake and allocation between plant organs or within the cell is mediated by specific transporters localised in plant membranes. Several functionally different sulfate transporters have to be postulated and have been already cloned from a number of plant species (Clarkson et al., 1993; Hawkesford and Smith, 1997; Takahashi et al., 1997; Yamaguchi, 1997). Following import into the plant and transport to the final site of reduction, the plastid, the chemically relatively inert sulfate molecule is activated through binding to ATP forming adenosine-5'-phosphosulfate (APS). This enzymatic step is controlled through the enzyme ATP-sulfurylase (ATP-S). APS can be further phosphorylated to form 3'-phosphoadenosine-5'-phosphosulfate (PAPS) which serves as sulfate donor for the formation of sulfate esters such as the biosynthesis of sulfolipids (Schmidt and Jäger, 1992). However, most of the APS is reduced to sulfide through the enzymes APS-reductase (APR) and sulfite reductase (SIR). The carbon backbone of cysteine is provided through serine, thus directly coupling photosynthetic processes and nitrogen metabolism to sulfur assimilation. L-serine is activated by serine acetyltransferase (SAT) through the transfer to an acetyl-group from acetyl coenzyme A to form O-acetyl-L-serine (OAS) which is then sulhydrylated using sulfide through the enzyme O-acetyl-L-serine thiol lyase (OAS-TL) forming cysteine. Cysteine is the central precursor of all organic molecules containing reduced sulfur ranging from the amino acid methionine to peptides as glutathione or phytochelatines, proteines, vitamines, cofactors as SAM and hormones. Cysteine and derived metabolites display essential roles within plant metabolism such as protein stabilisation through disulfide bridges, stress tolerance to active oxygen species and metals, cofactors for enzymatic reactions as e.g. SAM as major methylgroup donor and plant development and signalling through the volatile hormone ethylene. Cysteine and other metabolites carrying free sulfhydryl groups are commonly termed thioles (confer Fig. 1). The physiological control of the sulfate reduction pathway in higher plants is still not completely understood in all details. The objective of this paper is to summarise the available data on the molecular analysis and control of cysteine biosynthesis in plants, and to discuss potentials for manipulating the pathway using transgenic approaches.

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