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Plant Physiol. 1996 Dec;112(4):1479-1490.

Red Xylem and Higher Lignin Extractability by Down-Regulating a Cinnamyl Alcohol Dehydrogenase in Poplar.

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  • 1Laboratorium voor Genetica, Department of Genetics, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (M.B., J.V.D., M.V.M., D.I., W.B.), and Laboratoire Associe de I'Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France), Universiteit Gent, K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, B-9000, Belgium (M.B., D.I.).


Cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD) catalyzes the last step in the biosynthesis of the lignin precursors, the monolignols. We have down-regulated CAD in transgenic poplar (Populus tremula X Populus alba) by both antisense and co-suppression strategies. Several antisense and sense CAD transgenic poplars had an approximately 70% reduced CAD activity that was associated with a red coloration of the xylem tissue. Neither the lignin amount nor the lignin monomeric composition (syringyl/guaiacyl) were significantly modified. However, phloroglucinol-HCl staining was different in the down-regulated CAD plants, suggesting changes in the number of aldehyde units in the lignin. Furthermore, the reactivity of the cell wall toward alkali treatment was altered: a lower amount of lignin was found in the insoluble, saponified residue and more lignin could be precipitated from the soluble alkali fraction. Moreover, large amounts of phenolic compounds, vanillin and especially syringaldehyde, were detected in the soluble alkali fraction of the CAD down-regulated poplars. Alkaline pulping experiments on 3-month-old trees showed a reduction of the kappa number without affecting the degree of cellulose degradation. These results indicate that reducing the CAD activity in trees might be a valuable strategy to optimize certain processes of the wood industry, especially those of the pulp and paper industry.

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