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J Exp Bot. 2002 Apr;53(370):927-37.

Nitrogen metabolism and remobilization during senescence.

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Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern, Altenbergrain 21, CH-3013 Bern, Switzerland.


Senescence is a highly organized and well-regulated process. As much as 75% of total cellular nitrogen may be located in mesophyll chloroplasts of C(3)-plants. Proteolysis of chloroplast proteins begins in an early phase of senescence and the liberated amino acids can be exported to growing parts of the plant (e.g. maturing fruits). Rubisco and other stromal enzymes can be degraded in isolated chloroplasts, implying the involvement of plastidial peptide hydrolases. Whether or not ATP is required and if stromal proteins are modified (e.g. by reactive oxygen species) prior to their degradation are questions still under debate. Several proteins, in particular cysteine proteases, have been demonstrated to be specifically expressed during senescence. Their contribution to the general degradation of chloroplast proteins is unclear. The accumulation in intact cells of peptide fragments and inhibitor studies suggest that multiple degradation pathways may exist for stromal proteins and that vacuolar endopeptidases might also be involved under certain conditions. The breakdown of chlorophyll-binding proteins associated with the thylakoid membrane is less well investigated. The degradation of these proteins requires the simultaneous catabolism of chlorophylls. The breakdown of chlorophylls has been elucidated during the last decade. Interestingly, nitrogen present in chlorophyll is not exported from senescencing leaves, but remains within the cells in the form of linear tetrapyrrolic catabolites that accumulate in the vacuole. The degradation pathways for chlorophylls and chloroplast proteins are partially interconnected.

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