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Phytochemistry. 2002 Nov;61(5):465-84.

The in vivo nitrogen isotope discrimination among organic plant compounds.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie, Postfach 10 01 64, D-07701, Jena, Germany.


The bulk delta 15 N-value of plant (leaf) biomass is determined by that of the inorganic primary nitrogen sources NO(3)(-), NH(4)(+) and N(2), and by isotope discriminations on their uptake or assimilation. NH(4)(+) from these is transferred into "organic N" mainly by the glutamine synthetase reaction. The involved kinetic nitrogen isotope effect does not become manifest, because the turnover is quantitative. From the product glutamine any further conversion proceeds in a "closed system", where kinetic isotope effects become only efficient in connection with metabolic branching. The central and most important corresponding process is the GOGAT-reaction, involved in the de novo nitrogen binding and in recycling processes like the phenylpropanoid biosynthesis and photorespiration. The reaction yields relatively 15N-depleted glutamate and remaining glutamine, source of 15N-enriched amide-N in heteroaromatic compounds. Glutamate provides nitrogen for all amino acids and some other compounds with different 15N-abundances. An isotope equilibration is not connected to transamination; the relative delta 15 N-value of individual amino acids is determined by their metabolic tasks. Relative to the bulk delta 15 N-value of the plant cell, proteins are generally 15N-enriched, secondary products like chlorophyll, lipids, amino sugars and alkaloids are depleted in 15N. Global delta 15 N-values and 15N-patterns of compounds with several N-atoms can be calculated from those of their precursors and isotope discriminations in their biosyntheses.

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