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Plant Physiol. 2004 Dec;136(4):4023-36. Epub 2004 Nov 24.

Phenolic profiling of caffeic acid O-methyltransferase-deficient poplar reveals novel benzodioxane oligolignols.

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Department of Plant Systems Biology, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology, Ghent University, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium.


Caffeic acid O-methyltransferase (COMT) catalyzes preferentially the methylation of 5-hydroxyconiferaldehyde to sinapaldehyde in monolignol biosynthesis. Here, we have compared HPLC profiles of the methanol-soluble phenolics fraction of xylem tissue from COMT-deficient and control poplars (Populus spp.), using statistical analysis of the peak heights. COMT down-regulation results in significant concentration differences for 25 of the 91 analyzed peaks. Eight peaks were exclusively detected in COMT-deficient poplar, of which four could be purified for further identification using mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, and spiking of synthesized reference compounds. These new compounds were derived from 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol or 5-hydroxyconiferaldehyde and were characterized by benzodioxane moieties, a structural type that is also increased in the lignins of COMT-deficient plants. One of these four benzodioxanes amounted to the most abundant oligolignol in the HPLC profile. Furthermore, all of the differentially accumulating oligolignols involving sinapyl units were either reduced in abundance or undetectable. The concentration levels of all identified oligolignols were in agreement with the relative supply of monolignols and with their chemical coupling propensities, which supports the random coupling hypothesis. Chiral HPLC analysis of the most abundant benzodioxane dimer revealed the presence of both enantiomers in equal amounts, indicating that they were formed by radical coupling reactions under simple chemical control rather than guided by dirigent proteins.

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