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J Exp Bot. 2002 Apr;53(370):979-87.

The role of glutamine synthetase and glutamate dehydrogenase in nitrogen assimilation and possibilities for improvement in the nitrogen utilization of crops.

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  • 1Crop Performance and Improvement Division, IACR-Rothamsted, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2JQ, UK.


This short review outlines the central role of glutamine synthetase (GS) in plant nitrogen metabolism and discusses some possibilities for crop improvement. GS functions as the major assimilatory enzyme for ammonia produced from N fixation, and nitrate or ammonia nutrition. It also reassimilates ammonia released as a result of photorespiration and the breakdown of proteins and nitrogen transport compounds. GS is distributed in different subcellular locations (chloroplast and cytoplasm) and in different tissues and organs. This distribution probably changes as a function of the development of the tissue, for example, GS1 appears to play a key role in leaf senescence. The enzyme is the product of multiple genes with complex promoters that ensure the expression of the genes in an organ- and tissue-specific manner and in response to a number of environmental variables affecting the nutritional status of the cell. GS activity is also regulated post-translationally in a manner that involves 14-3-3 proteins and phosphorylation. GS and plant nitrogen metabolism is best viewed as a complex matrix continually changing during the development cycle of plants. Along with GS, a number of other enzymes play key roles in maintaining the balance of carbon and nitrogen. It is proposed that one of these is glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). There is considerable evidence for a GDH shunt to return the carbon in amino acids back into reactions of carbon metabolism and the tri-carboxylic acid cycle. Results with transgenic plants containing transferred GS genes suggest that there may be ways in which it is possible to improve the efficiency with which crop plants use nitrogen. Marker-assisted breeding may also bring about such improvements.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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