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Plant Physiol Biochem. 2012 Nov;60:109-14. doi: 10.1016/j.plaphy.2012.08.001. Epub 2012 Aug 11.

The carnitine biosynthetic pathway in Arabidopsis thaliana shares similar features with the pathway of mammals and fungi.

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Génie Enzymatique et Cellulaire (GEC), UMR 6022 CNRS, Université de Technologie de Compiègne, Centre de Recherche Royallieu, BP 20529, 60205 Compiègne Cedex, France.


Carnitine is an essential quaternary ammonium amino acid that occurs in the microbial, plant and animal kingdoms. The role and synthesis of this compound are very well documented in bacteria, fungi and mammals. On the contrary, although the presence of carnitine in plant tissue has been reported four decades ago and information about its biological implication are available, nothing is known about its synthesis in plants. We designed experiments to determine if the carnitine biosynthetic pathway in Arabidopsis thaliana is similar to the pathway in mammals and in the fungi Neurospora crassa and Candida albicans. We first checked for the presence of trimetyllysine (TML) and γ-butyrobetaine (γ-BB), two precursors of carnitine in fungi and in mammals, using liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-MS/MS). Both compounds were shown to be present in plant extracts at concentrations in the picomole range per mg of dry weight. We next synthesized deuterium-labeled TML and transferred A. thaliana seedlings on growth medium supplemented with 1 mM of the deuterated precursor. LC-ESI-MS/MS analysis of plant extracts clearly highlighted the synthesis of deuterium labeled γ-BB and labeled carnitine in deuterated-TML fed plants. The similarities between plant, fungal and mammalian pathways provide very useful information to search homologies between genomes. As a matter of fact the analysis of A. thaliana protein database provides homology for several enzymes responsible for carnitine synthesis in fungi and mammals. The study of mutants affected in the corresponding genes would be very useful to elucidate the plant carnitine biosynthetic pathway and to investigate further the role of carnitine in plant physiology.

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