Secondary xylem-specific expression of caffeoyl-coenzyme A 3-O-methyltransferase plays an important role in the methylation pathway associated with lignin biosynthesis in loblolly pine

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Two types of structurally distinct O-methyltransferases mediate the methylation of hydroxylated monomeric lignin precursors in angiosperms. Caffeate 3-O-methyltransferase (COMT; EC methylates the free acids and caffeoyl CoA 3-O-methyltransferase (CCoAOMT; EC methylates coenzyme A esters. Recently, we reported a novel hydroxycinnamic acid/hydroxycinnamoyl CoA ester O-methyltransferase (AEOMT) from loblolly pine differentiating xylem that was capable of methylating both acid and ester precursors with similar efficiency. In order to determine the possible existence and role of CCoAOMT in lignin biosynthesis in gymnosperms, a 1.3 kb CCoAOMT cDNA was isolated from loblolly pine that showed 79-82% amino acid sequence identity with many angiosperm CCoAOMTs. The recombinant CCoAOMT expressed in Escherichia coli exhibited a significant methylating activity with hydroxycinnamoyl CoA esters whereas activity with hydroxycinnamic acids was insignificant. Moreover, 3.2 times higher catalytic efficiency for methylating caffeoyl CoA over 5-hydroxyferuloyl CoA was observed which could serve as a driving force towards synthesis of guaiacyl lignin. The secondary xylem-specific expression of CCoAOMT was demonstrated using RNA blot analysis, western blot analysis, and O-methyltransferase enzyme assays. In addition, Southern blot analysis indicated that CCoAOMT may exist as a single-copy gene in loblolly pine genome. The transgenic tobacco plants carrying loblolly pine CCoAOMT promoter-GUS fusion localized the site of GUS activity at the secondary xylem tissues. These data suggest that CCoAOMT, in addition to AEOMT, plays an important role in the methylation pathway associated with lignin biosynthesis in loblolly pine.

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Plant Molecular Biology