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Plant Cell. 2004 Jan;16(1):270-90. Epub 2003 Dec 19.

Storage protein accumulation in the absence of the vacuolar processing enzyme family of cysteine proteases.

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  • 1Pioneer Hi-Bred International, A DuPont Company, Johnston, Iowa 50131-1004, USA.


The role(s) of specific proteases in seed protein processing is only vaguely understood; indeed, the overall role of processing in stable protein deposition has been the subject of more speculation than direct investigation. Seed-type members of the vacuolar processing enzyme (VPE) family were hypothesized to perform a unique function in seed protein processing, but we demonstrated previously that Asn-specific protein processing in developing Arabidopsis seeds occurs independently of this VPE activity. Here, we describe the unexpected expression of vegetative-type VPEs in developing seeds and test the role(s) of all VPEs in seed storage protein accumulation by systematically stacking knockout mutant alleles of all four members (alphaVPE, betaVPE, gammaVPE, and deltaVPE) of the VPE gene family in Arabidopsis. The complete removal of VPE function in the alphavpe betavpe gammavpe deltavpe quadruple mutant resulted in a total shift of storage protein accumulation from wild-type processed polypeptides to a finite number of prominent alternatively processed polypeptides cleaved at sites other than the conserved Asn residues targeted by VPE. Although alternatively proteolyzed legumin-type globulin polypeptides largely accumulated as intrasubunit disulfide-linked polypeptides with apparent molecular masses similar to those of VPE-processed legumin polypeptides, they showed markedly altered solubility and protein assembly characteristics. Instead of forming 11S hexamers, alternatively processed legumin polypeptides were deposited primarily as 9S complexes. However, despite the impact on seed protein processing, plants devoid of all known functional VPE genes appeared unchanged with regard to protein content in mature seeds, relative mobilization rates of protein reserves during germination, and vegetative growth. These findings indicate that VPE-mediated Asn-specific proteolytic processing, and the physiochemical property changes attributed to this specific processing step, are not required for the successful deposition and mobilization of seed storage protein in the protein storage vacuoles of Arabidopsis seeds.

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