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Phytochemistry. 2011 Apr;72(4-5):344-55. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2010.12.012. Epub 2011 Jan 11.

RNAi-mediated down-regulation of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) leads to reduced nicotine and increased anatabine levels in transgenic Nicotiana tabacum L.

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School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria 3800, Australia.


In leaf and root tissues of Nicotiana tabacum L. (common tobacco), nicotine is by far the predominant pyridine alkaloid, with anatabine representing only a minor component of the total alkaloid fraction. The pyrrolidine ring of nicotine is derived from the diamine putrescine, which can be synthesized either directly from ornithine via the action of ODC, or from arginine via a three enzymatic step process, initiated by ADC. Previous studies in this laboratory have shown that antisense-mediated down-regulation of ADC transcript levels has only a minor effect upon the alkaloid profile of transgenic N. tabacum. In the present study, RNAi methodology was used to down-regulate ODC transcript levels in N. tabacum, using both the Agrobacterium rhizogenes-derived hairy root culture system, and also disarmed Agrobacterium tumefaciens to generate intact transgenic plants. We observed a marked effect upon the alkaloid profile of transgenic tissues, with ODC transcript down-regulation leading to reduced nicotine and increased anatabine levels in both cultured hairy roots and intact greenhouse-grown plants. Treatment of ODC-RNAi hairy roots with low levels of the wound-associated hormone methyl jasmonate, or wounding of transgenic plants by removal of apices - both treatments which normally stimulate nicotine synthesis in tobacco - did not restore capacity for normal nicotine synthesis in transgenic tissue but did lead to markedly increased levels of anatabine. We conclude that the ODC mediated route to putrescine plays an important role in determining the normal nicotine:anatabine profile in N. tabacum and is essential in allowing N. tabacum to increase nicotine levels in response to wound-associated stress.

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