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Plant Biotechnol J. 2008 May;6(4):346-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2008.00324.x. Epub 2008 Feb 14.

RNA interference (RNAi)-induced suppression of nicotine demethylase activity reduces levels of a key carcinogen in cured tobacco leaves.

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Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


Technologies for reducing the levels of tobacco product constituents that may contribute to unwanted health effects are desired. Target compounds include tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), a class of compounds generated through the nitrosation of pyridine alkaloids during the curing and processing of tobacco. Studies have reported the TSNA N'-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) to be carcinogenic in laboratory animals. NNN is formed via the nitrosation of nornicotine, a secondary alkaloid produced through enzymatic N-demethylation of nicotine. Strategies to lower nornicotine levels in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) could lead to a corresponding decrease in NNN accumulation in cured leaves. The major nicotine demethylase gene of tobacco has recently been isolated. In this study, a large-scale field trial was conducted to evaluate transgenic lines of burley tobacco carrying an RNA interference (RNAi) construct designed to inhibit the expression of this gene. Selected transgenic lines exhibited a six-fold decrease in nornicotine content relative to untransformed controls. Analysis of cured leaves revealed a commensurate decrease in NNN and total TSNAs. The inhibition of nicotine demethylase activity is an effective means of decreasing significantly the level of a key defined animal carcinogen present in tobacco products.

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