Aspen phenylpropanoid genes expression levels correlate with genets tannin richness and vary both in responses to soil nitrogen and associations with phenolic profiles
Tree Physiology 2017, 37(2):270-279
Vicki HG Decker, Franziska Bandau, Michael J Gundale, Christopher T Cole, Benedicte R Albrectsen
Condensed tannin (CT) contents of European aspen (Populus tremula L.) vary among genotypes, and increases in nitrogen (N) availability generally reduce plants’ tannin production in favor of growth, through poorly understood mechanisms. We hypothesized that intrinsic tannin production rates may co-vary with gene expression responses to soil N and resource allocation within the phenylpropanoid pathway (PPP). Thus, we examined correlations between soil N levels and both expression patterns of eight PPP genes (measured by quantitative-reverse transcription PCR) and foliar phenolic compounds (measured by liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry) in young aspen genets with intrinsically extreme CT levels. Monitored phenolics included salicinoids, lignins, flavones, flavonols, CT precursors and CTs. The PPP genes were consistently expressed more strongly in high-CT trees. Low N supplements reduced expression of genes throughout the PPP in all genets, while high N doses restored expression of genes at the beginning and end of the pathway. These PPP changes were not reflected in pools of tannin precursors, but varying correlations between gene expression and foliar phenolic pools were detected in young and mature leaves, suggesting that processes linking gene expression and the resulting phenolics vary spatially and temporally. Precursor fluxes suggested that CT-related metabolic rate or sink controls are linked to intrinsic carbon allocation strategies associated with N responses. Overall, we found more negative correlations (indicative of allocation trade-offs) between PPP gene expression and phenolic products following N additions in low-CT plants than in high-CT plants. The tannin-related expression dynamics suggest that, in addition to defense, relative tannin levels may also be indicative of intraspecific variations in the way aspen genets respond to soil fertility.
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