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Phytochemistry. 2001 Jul;57(6):993-1003.

Elucidation of new structures in lignins of CAD- and COMT-deficient plants by NMR.

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US Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, 1925 Linden Drive West, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Studying lignin-biosynthetic-pathway mutants and transgenics provides insights into plant responses to perturbations of the lignification system, and enhances our understanding of normal lignification. When enzymes late in the pathway are downregulated, significant changes in the composition and structure of lignin may result. NMR spectroscopy provides powerful diagnostic tools for elucidating structures in the difficult lignin polymer, hinting at the chemical and biochemical changes that have occurred. COMT (caffeic acid O-methyl transferase) downregulation in poplar results in the incorporation of 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol into lignins via typical radical coupling reactions, but post-coupling quinone methide internal trapping reactions produce novel benzodioxane units in the lignin. CAD (cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase) downregulation results in the incorporation of the hydroxycinnamyl aldehyde monolignol precursors intimately into the polymer. Sinapyl aldehyde cross-couples 8-O-4 with both guaiacyl and syringyl units in the growing polymer, whereas coniferyl aldehyde cross-couples 8-O-4 only with syringyl units, reflecting simple chemical cross-coupling propensities. The incorporation of hydroxycinnamyl aldehyde and 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol monomers indicates that these monolignol intermediates are secreted to the cell wall for lignification. The recognition that novel units can incorporate into lignins portends significantly expanded opportunities for engineering the composition and consequent properties of lignin for improved utilization of valuable plant resources.

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