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Amino Acids. 2006 Mar;30(2):173-83. Epub 2006 Mar 24.

Effect of sulfur availability on the integrity of amino acid biosynthesis in plants.

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Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia.


Amino acid levels in plants are regulated by a complex interplay of regulatory circuits at the level of enzyme activities and gene expression. Despite the diversity of precursors involved in amino acid biosynthesis as providing the carbon backbones, the amino groups and, for the amino acids methionine and cysteine, the sulfhydryl group and despite the involvement of amino acids as substrates in various downstream metabolic processes, the plant usually manages to provide relatively constant levels of all amino acids. Here we collate data on how amino acid homeostasis is shifted upon depletion of one of the major biosynthetic constituents, i.e., sulfur. Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings exposed to sulfate starvation respond with a set of adaptation processes to achieve a new balance of amino acid metabolism. First, metabolites containing reduced sulfur (cysteine, glutathione, S-adenosylmethionine) are reduced leading to a number of downstream effects. Second, the relative excess accumulation of N over S triggers processes to dump nitrogen in asparagine, glutamine and further N-rich compounds like ureides. Third, the depletion of glutathione affects the redox and stress response system of the glutathione-ascorbate cycle. Thus, biosynthesis of aromatic compounds is triggered to compensate for this loss, leading to an increased flux and accumulation of aromatic amino acids, especially tryptophan. Despite sulfate starvation, the homeostasis is kept, though shifted to a new state. This adaptation process keeps the plant viable even under an adverse nutritional status.

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