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J Exp Bot. 2006;57(4):897-909. Epub 2006 Feb 10.

Contribution of omega-3 fatty acid desaturase and 3-ketoacyl-ACP synthase II (KASII) genes in the modulation of glycerolipid fatty acid composition during cold acclimation in birch leaves.

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Finnish Forest Research Institute, Rovaniemi Research Station, PO Box 16, FIN-96301 Rovaniemi, Finland.


Temperate and boreal tree species respond to low positive temperatures (LT) or a shortening of the photoperiod (SD) by inducing cold acclimation. One of the metabolic consequences of cold acclimation is an increase in fatty acid (FA) desaturation in membrane lipids, which allows functional membrane fluidity to be maintained at LT. The molecular mechanisms of FA desaturation were investigated in leaves of birch seedlings (Betula pendula) during cold acclimation. Four genes involved in FA biosynthesis were isolated: a 3-ketoacyl-ACP synthase II gene (BpKASII) involved in the elongation of palmitoyl-ACP to stearoyl-ACP, and three omega-3 FA desaturase genes (BpFAD3, BpFAD7, and BpFAD8) involved in the desaturation of linoleic acid (18:2) to alpha-linolenic acid (18:3). BpFAD7 was the main omega-3 FAD gene expressed in birch leaves, and it was down-regulated by LT under SD conditions. LT induced the expression of BpFAD3 and BpFAD8 and a synchronous increase in 18:3 occurred in glycerolipids. Changes in the photoperiod did not affect the LT-induced increase in 18:3 in chloroplast lipids (MGDG, DGDG, PG), but it modulated the LT response detected in extra-chloroplastic lipids (PC, PE, PI, PS). A decrease in the proportion of the 16-carbon FAs in lipids occurred at LT, possibly in relation to the regulation of BpKASII expression at LT. These results suggest that LT affects the whole FA biosynthesis pathway. They support a co-ordinated action of microsomal (BpFAD3) and chloroplast enzymes (BpFAD7, BpFAD8) in determining the level of 18:3 in extra-chloroplastic membranes, and they highlight the importance of dynamic lipid trafficking.

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