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J Biol Chem. 2008 Sep 5;283(36):24816-25. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M804000200. Epub 2008 Jul 7.

Cytosolic and plastoglobule-targeted carotenoid dioxygenases from Crocus sativus are both involved in beta-ionone release.

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Sección de Biotecnología, Instituto de Desarrollo Regional, ETSIA, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Campus Universitario s/n, Albacete, 02071, Spain.


Saffron, the processed stigma of Crocus sativus, is characterized by the presence of several apocarotenoids that contribute to the color, flavor, and aroma of the spice. However, little is known about the synthesis of aroma compounds during the development of the C. sativus stigma. The developing stigma is nearly odorless, but before and at anthesis, the aromatic compound beta-ionone becomes the principal norisoprenoid volatile in the stigma. In this study, four carotenoid cleavage dioxygenase (CCD) genes, CsCCD1a, CsCCD1b, CsCCD4a, and CsCCD4b, were isolated from C. sativus. Expression analysis showed that CsCCD1a was constitutively expressed, CsCCD1b was unique to the stigma tissue, but only CsCCD4a and -b had expression patterns consistent with the highest levels of beta-carotene and emission of beta-ionone derived during the stigma development. The CsCCD4 enzymes were localized in plastids and more specifically were present in the plastoglobules. The enzymatic activities of CsCCD1a, CsCCD1b, and CsCCD4 enzymes were determined by Escherichia coli expression, and subsequent analysis of the volatile products was generated by GC/MS. The four CCDs fell in two phylogenetically divergent dioxygenase classes, but all could cleave beta-carotene at the 9,10(9',10') positions to yield beta-ionone. The data obtained suggest that all four C. sativus CCD enzymes may contribute in different ways to the production of beta-ionone. In addition, the location and precise timing of beta-ionone synthesis, together with its known activity as a fragrance and insect attractant, suggest that this volatile may have a role in Crocus pollination.

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