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Phytochemistry. 2003 Jan;62(1):53-65.

Structural and compositional modifications in lignin of transgenic alfalfa down-regulated in caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase and caffeoyl coenzyme A 3-O-methyltransferase.

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US Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, 1925 Linden Drive West, Madison, WI 53706-1108, USA.


Isolated lignins from alfalfa deficient in caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase contained benzodioxanes resulting from the incorporation of the novel monomer, 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol. Due to the high level incorporated into the soluble lignin fraction and the use of sensitive NMR instrumentation, unique structural features were revealed. A new type of end-unit, the 5-hydroxyguaiacyl glycerol unit, was identified. It was possible to establish that coniferyl alcohol, sinapyl alcohol, and the novel 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol can cross-couple with the 5-hydroxyguaiacyl units that are formed in the lignin, the latter giving rise to extended chains of benzodioxane units. There is also evidence that 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol couples with normal (guaiacyl or syringyl) lignin units. Lignin in the alfalfa deficient in caffeoyl CoA 3-O-methyltransferase was structurally similar to the control lignin but the transgenic exhibited a dramatic decrease in lignin content (approximately 20%) and modest increase in cellulose (approximately 10%) reflecting a 30% increase in cellulose:lignin ratio. The compositional changes in both transgenics potentially allow enhanced utilization of alfalfa as a major forage crop by increasing the digestibility of its stem fraction.

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